Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life in the Little

One of the greatest things I've learned as of late is just how much life is in the little. If you look at an organization like Love146, it's easy to see the cool artwork, the inspirational tweets, spiky haired/tattoo clad Rob Morris, and think that the work is being done by a bunch of cool hipsters. Let's be honest, being involved in social justice sounds semi-sexy. It's cool. It's Bono. It's cool glasses and sweet hair. But that's so far from the truth. 

How much I love the truth. 

Love146 is not cool. The people that I traveled with from Love146 weren't cool (in the most wonderful way!). They were the me and you. Of course, there's a place for those that sit at the cool kids table, but they're not the face of God's kingdom. The face of God's kingdom is the woman who is half blind but runs a program that brings kids off the streets and shares the love of Jesus with them and their families. It very well could be the hipsters running things, but the hispters aren't hipsters when they're doing the work. They give up the cool for something better than cool. 
They're the little. 
The average.
Because that's what someone becomes in order to be who God has for them to be.
so love that. It makes my heart swell to think about who God uses verses who we think should be used.  I love that Jesus didn't go out and look for the best, brightest and most influential to build his kingdom. I love that he chooses people that stutter and that run from him and throw fits when he doesn't do things like we think he should.

It means there's hope for me in his kingdom. When I'm struggling and flailing and gasping for breath because I have no idea what he's doing, he's there. He's in it.
When I'm tempted to go numb because I don't know if I can overcome ridiculous fear to just put one foot in front of the other, I know he's there. He's in it. 

He's working. He's wooing. 
He's showing himself big in my smallness. 

I want a big God, not a small god that does what I want or that can be manipulated to fit my purposes. I want real, not fairytale. 
Life in the little is where it's at, where He's at, so I don't want to be anywhere else.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Help a Sista Out

Shakespeare was a genius. You know why Shakespeare was a genius? He was a master of this wonderful little literary device called comic relief. This girl needs a little comic relief in her life. You know you need a little funny when you start talking in third person.


How I want to dropkick hashtags in the face.

So this is one of those days, or maybe weeks, when all I want to do is have a good laugh. I'm not asking for a straight week of laughter. An interlude would be nice though.

So let's talk funny, shall we?

Yeah, I've got nothing.
So please, lend a weary girl some silliness.

Monkeys are sorta silly.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Heads Together

One of the most important lessons that I've learned through dealing with this leg wound is it would have been nearly impossible for me to get the proper care had I been a person in a vulnerable position. I was able to fight for myself, but even so, I didn't receive the optimal care. I also had a network of people to help me along the way. People that encouraged me to keep fighting, family and friends that stepped up to care for my children while I ran around to multiple doctor and business offices in order to make sure it happened. There's no doubt in my mind that I would have ended up with a serious infection had I just waited around to be seen by my insurance company's time table. Weeks after getting into the doctor it wasn't completely healed. I had to go see a doctor while in Cambodia- but not just any doctor- a doctor that the people I was with knew and trusted. I was able to get the care I needed in a foreign, developing nation because of the fact that I had the right connections.

I have people all around me that will stand up and stand in for me. I think I've spent my whole life taking that for granted.

Love truly does empower.

The more I learn, the more I see the significance in that. We need to be advocates for each other and for other people. We have to stand in the gaps for the most vulnerable in our communities. We have to fight for those that don't have a voice. I think that's a big part of building up our churches in a healthy way. It's not through providing the best programs or music that will attract the masses, but literally by just serving.

A couple nights before I left for Asia, a small group of my girl friends got together at Starbuck's to just hang out, offer me their support, and pray over me. We talked about my fears and excitement. They understood how it might be difficult coming back home. They promised to listen and encourage me through the wide spectrum of emotions they knew I would encounter. They imagined I would feel angry at times returning to our culture. They were right. They knew my passion and drive would increase. No doubt. And they told me they'd journey with me. I'm trusting them to follow through; I know they will.

These are the types of communities that we have to cultivate. Ones that support and encourage each other to act, to come alongside each other, provide support in the weak moments, and bounce ideas off of each other. I want others to experience the joy I've had through having people to walk through life with. Good friends and family are such a gift. I look forward to coming up with ways with them to share that love with those who have not had such experiences.

It's go time, friends.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Redeeming Love

Growing up, I remember dreaming about someday meeting a man that would love me just as I am. My girlfriends and I spent much time thinking about our wedding days. We all wanted the day to be perfect with dresses and flowers, delicious food, music, and laughter. I've walked this road with many friends as our dreams became reality. I've learned that marriage isn't the fairytale that we're conditioned to think it is; thankfully, it's so much better than the shallow story of Prince Charming riding up on his white horse, sweeping the girl off her feet, whisking her into the sunset to live happily ever after. It's two imperfect people coming alongside each other, promising to choose each other every day. It requires sacrifice and hard work, but it is one of the most beautiful unions life has to offer.

On our last day in the Philippines, I had the privilege of watching one of the girls that went through aftercare at the Round Home enter into this precious covenant. What a beautiful portrait of redemption. It struck me how it brought back memories of my own wedding day. It was just such a great reminder of how similar we all are. Etched in all of us is the desire to love and be loved. There were cultural differences but the spirit was the same. It was a day of joy, love and celebration. 

The bride's face radiated with joy. Her groom looked at her with love and longing. Her friends sang along to love songs like any group of girlfriends. One expressed to me her desire to someday get married as well. It was just incredible to me. I can't imagine being able to trust someone after all these girls have been through. I wasn't prepared for the amount of joy I saw in them. I learned some of their stories and how desperate they were when they arrived at the Round Home. They entered this place with no hope.

Love changed all that.

These girls were changed from the inside out through holistic care. Above all else, they know they are loved by God, and that love enables them. They are pursuing education and learning music and art. Their care goes so far beyond just meeting basic needs; these women are learning to thrive. They are healing in ways that I would not even think possible. They are shown what it means to love and to accept love. 

On this day, this beautiful young bride, along with the other young women who survived such horrific circumstances, were not defined by their past, but were given a glimpse into a future brimming with new life and opportunity. Their lives have no element of fairytale; each have a story that goes much deeper than that. They have experienced the pit of hell and the richness of love. As their stories unfold, there's no doubt that pain will still be a part of their lives, as it is for all of us, but I hope this day will always symbolize the hope of restoration. Life-giving, sacrificial love is possible because they are loved perfectly by a God that rid himself of all his power and suffered to set us free. Because of this love, no story has to end in despair. 

Love protects.
Love defends.
Love restores. 
Love empowers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pressing On

We were made to grow, to change, to be more than we were the day before. Being conformed to the image of Christ looks like forward motion. It's so important to be proactive and creative in how we serve others. I've seen that here as people develop programs that are flourishing in the middle of darkness.

Darkness wants chaos and separation that breaks down communities. Light restores order and connects people in meaningful ways. I love how Love146 is partnering with the local church. We saw the extremely vulnerable positions so many people are in, and how they are flourishing in ways that are sustainable; families are taking ownership in education and providing for their family's needs through business endeavors. You can visit Love146's website to see the specific projects that they are working on in Asia prevention.

Such as:

• Children at Risk Transformation Project: Kone Kmeng focuses on reducing the vulnerability of children in communities by providing resources, consultation, and encouragement to local churches. This includes funding, monitoring, and consulting on specific projects aimed to better the community and reduce risk for children. It also includes conducting training on child protection and assisting partners in setting up a child protection policy.

• Save the Children Project: This project works with a local pastor to educate children with the end goal of reintegrating them into the public school system.  Further, by providing a dormitory for students, this project reduces the risk of trafficking as children travel the long distance between their homes and school.  Workshops are conducted for parents that address child labor, domestic violence, displacement of families, drug abuse and addiction, and health issues.  Kone Kmeng also provides micro-loans to families for the purpose of creating micro-enterprises and establishing livelihoods, thus reducing the vulnerability of children to trafficking.

Trafficking effects the most vulnerable people within communities. Chaos, confusion and poor communication opens up opportunities for those most vulnerable to be exploited. These programs teach that children are valuable and worth protecting. They provide alternatives from the sex industry that so many are forced into from lack of education and opportunity. Communities that are built up and strengthened through relationships, education, and opportunity are less likely to fall prey to those with ill-intentions. One of my favorite things was listening to young teenagers explain art work that they had done that showed what they wanted to do as a career when they get out of school. They had goals to aim for. They were excited and also had realistic expectations. It was beautiful. It was also beautiful to see a grandmother who has been able to sustain a business selling pigs to provide for her family, joke around with the program director about her recently dyed black hair. What a small luxury for someone who has taken such care of her family to be able to enjoy.

I love how there's nothing static about Love146's prevention. They are constantly researching, engaging and networking with others to find the best ways to protect children. Seeing these programs in action was incredibly motivating. Community leaders and law enforcement are coming alongside and supporting them. People's lives were being rewritten. Their stories don't have to end in defeat. The obstacles that these communities face are huge, yet they still press on.  There's such hope.

Visiting the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng

We left the rush of the city for wider, greener land. The Cambodia countryside was quite pretty with interesting flowers and foliage. We walked winding paths where birds chirped overhead and big butterflies fluttered around. It was quite peaceful, which just wasn't right.

Because this is the Killing Fields. 

This is a place where people were executed after being tortured in horrific ways and thrown into mass graves. Men, women, children. During seasons like this when there's a lot of rain, more bones and clothing come unearthed. Right on the path there was a set of teeth. Teeth that belonged to someone. A person alive with hopes and dreams. A person who was important to someone. A person who was loved and who loved others. And now those teeth are telling a story, as they are exposed to those that visit this site to learn and remember the 2-3 million people that were exterminated.

On this path is also a tree. On that tree the executioners used to hang speakers to blast music. They wanted to cover up the sounds of the dying. They numbed their senses so they wouldn't have to face the horrible truth of their actions. They created enough noise so others wouldn't hear the cries of the victims.

Don't we do that though? Don't we numb ourselves to the cries of those in distress? Of course there's a big jump in the comparison because we're not literally murdering people, but we certainly fill our lives with white noise. Pain is certainly all around us. In this part of the world, it's pretty blatant. You can't miss the horror of a toddler begging on the street or a ridiculously young girl prowling for a man.

You can't miss it, but you can ignore it. 
You can numb yourself so that it doesn't break your heart. 
Our culture does numb so very well.

In our country, the pain of others may be easier to avoid, but that doesn't mean it's not there. We just find different routes to take that avoid the seedier neighborhoods in our communities. We shut our eyes to injustice and hope that someone else will find solutions. And let me be clear. By we I mean me. I do these things. 

At the same time, I know many people in my church and community that are working hard, stepping into other people's pain. I know wonderful people, doing some wonderful things for the least of these. I just struggle though because it's never enough. I hate to say that but it's true. 

It's not enough. We're not doing enough. As an individual, I'm not doing enough. As a family, we're not doing enough. As a church, a group of friends, as a community, we aren't doing enough. We depend on the work of a few to do what we all should be doing.

These issues are so big, and the thought that it will never be enough makes me want to both give up and fight harder at the same time. Life will always be lived in a tension where there's beauty and dread. The dreadful parts can make us want to numb ourselves and just give up, give in to the numbness. But then what? Darkness gets disguised as light. The ugly parts of our humanness becomes the norm. 

It's not just a suggestion that we should take care of the marginalized within our communities. It's really not. When we see injustice, we can't say that it's not "our thing" to respond. We can't hear about human trafficking and say it's just not my issue. The minute you hear about people being exploited it becomes your responsibility to do something.

It doesn't have to be huge. 
It just has to be a conversation that continues.

Get involved.
Somehow get involved.
Fight for those that can't fight for themselves. Be a part of solutions. It doesn't look the same for everyone. Prevention is a huge component of this battle. I'll share a lot more about what is being done in this area, but there are so many ways that we can get involved, and there's always room for improvement.

We can't just ignore though. We can't turn up the tv, our ipods, or surf the web to numb ourselves to the cries of those all around us. We have to look at people and see them and not look away. We can't hang our speakers from a tree and pretend nothing is wrong. We have to be people of action.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I wrote this a few days ago, but just haven't had time to finish until today. Going to try to get some more thoughts out in the next few days...

I don't even know where to begin to tell about yesterday. By the end of the day I felt like we'd just experienced three days packed into one. Such a juxtaposition of hope and chaos. The issues surrounding human trafficking are so dehumanizing. People are just stripped of their dignity. It's like this steady beat of oppression that just tries to lull people into accepting all of this as normal. It's incredible what is socially acceptable; it's okay to use others, and corruption is just a part of the fabric of society.

But there are pockets of beauty all around. The programs we saw yesterday are seemingly small against the backdrop of numbers, but they are making a huge difference in people's lives and communities. It's mostly individuals who just saw needs and took the necessary steps to meet them.

We visited a center that's giving boys a place to go during the day to get off the streets and just experience love. There's English classes for guys in massage parlors and new job opportunities being offered so they don't have to live that way. There's the organization that is offering alternative job opportunities for women to make beautiful clothes and accessories and take ownership in selling them, and then there's the group providing work opportunities for "lady boys" as well. We saw the beauty of the local church as children who had fallen behind in school were given the opportunity to catch up with their studies and get back into classes. They're working with people in extreme poverty in order to change the course of their lives.

We drove through the red light district in tuk tuks at night, seeing the abundance of massage parlors and karaoke bars (yeah, they've highjacked one of my favorite things) where people sell themselves for the twisted pleasure of someone who cares nothing for them.

All of this can be quite overwhelming. It feels so big, so much bigger than we can even make a dent in. I get angry because I have no acceptable answer as to why God allows such things. It makes me wonder why we pray the things we do sometimes. We have our "it's a God thing" moments where we credit God for some silly, material blessing that we received, but then we look at things like this and wonder where God was for these people's "God thing" moments. Where is God?

I have to rest in the fact that I know He is there. Even in the darkest of dark moments, he's still there. He still hears us. He is a God that entered into our mess, walked through our pain and poverty, and suffered through the worst of what humanity had to offer. I think of when Jesus walked this earth and people's expectations of him. They wanted him to intervene. They wanted him to free them from the oppression of Rome. They wanted him to take up arms and fight for their freedom. But He didn't. His way was not by power or force. Power and force don't work. They kill and destroy people, communities, whole nations. When the powers of this world rose up against him, he laid his life down. 


I have so much I'm thinking through and trying to unpack and reconcile in my own mind about all of this. Especially after visiting the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng. Try to post more tomorrow.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

It rained today. 
I mean, it RAINED.
The streets were flooded to the point where there were small waves crashing against the cars and motor bikes. No one seemed to mind though. People still had places to be, people to see, so they just carried on. Just drove right on through it. Or walked when their bike engines flooded out. To my Western eyes there are no traffic rules here. People just go. I mean, if they want to go against the flow of traffic, no biggie. Stop signs? Who needs them. There's just hoards of people trying to get where they're going. It is crazy and chaotic, but somehow it works.

I can't imagine the obstacles in working in a culture like this. Everything in America is so structured and ordered and rules centered. I think our structure can suck the life out of people sometimes, but at least it's dependable. It makes so many parts of life easy. In turn, we find plenty of other frivolous things to complicate our lives though. Life is so easy, yet no one ever has any time. We get busy to the point of missing out on time with those we love. For what?

We met people today who are doing the hard, laborious work of trafficking prevention. Let's be honest; we all want to set the captives free. We all want a world where children are not made into a commodity. There are those that want it though, and those that actually work to ensure it doesn't happen. There is a ten year study being conducted that follows the lives of a hundred and twenty something survivors who have been involved with various aftercare programs, to develop the best programs possible to get people the care they need, the care that won't just be a band-aid on a gaping wound. It's tedious and long, hard work and there's nothing sexy about it. There's a lot of work like that here. Work that won't give you a slap on the back or a high five. It's hard to measure, which can be discouraging for our result driven culture. How can you prove that you stopped something from happening? There's the curriculum for going into schools to teach students how to protect themselves, and programs to change the culture of men who see nothing wrong with visiting prostitutes. There are people standing in the gaps for the little boys that no one mentions are getting abused and love for the transgender people who don't fit anywhere. There are programs that are changing the course of a village's history, where people are given educational opportunities that bring them out of a cycle of despair. What's particularly interesting is the fact that so many in this culture have a fatalistic view of life where they were born into this life as a result of a past life and so now must accept where they are. 

There's little hope.
But there is hope. 

There's the beauty of a God that cares about all our needs, our present, very real physical needs alongside the needs we have because we're not just matter passing through. We are hungry. In so many ways, we are hungry. And there's One that satisfies and cares for all these needs. It's funny because whether or not people agree with faith-based organizations, they are the bulk of people doing the work. There's an incredible network of people here working together to meet the needs of people in a way that many secular organizations just can't match. They trust each other. They're not worried about being the best; they're worried about doing what's best for people. It's a beautiful example of what the church should be to the world. 

I think of the people I met today doing this work who are just a different breed. They don't seem to care about the stupid things I'm wrapped up in. Sure, they have fears. Maybe even self-doubt. But it's different than mine. Their's is a fear of not being able to be or do enough for those around them. Mine is that people won't like what they see in me- or I'll be misunderstood- or won't be loved. 
So dumb. 
I am already perfectly loved. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

And So It Begins...

I remember the moments leading up to the birth of my firstborn as one of the most surreal days of my life. I had all these months to prepare for it, but still had absolutely no idea what to expect. It was such a nervous anticipation that I hadn't experienced before with such intensity. Something so very important and life altering was about to happen.

I've had a sense of that these last few days as well. Life is certainly made in the small, common everyday ways, but then there are times like this that cut a path that look entirely different from what you ever would have expected. I know that there is so much to learn and see and begin to try to wrap my mind around, but for right now it's as if the labor pains have just started. We've spent hours on planes traveling across the world, we've been led by a sweet Korean woman running through an airport, and we've been hit in the face with foreign sounds, sites, and smells as we left the safety of the final airport. No going back.

My first night in LA, I texted a friend that I wished that I was experiencing all of this with people that I knew and loved. I wanted that comfort in the middle of something that is so ugly. It feels strange to only have snapshots of the lives of the four other people I'm with right now. I've only gotten the Cliff's notes version of how each of them got to the point that brought us all together. Discomfort, I'm learning, is good though. I'm looking forward to learning from each of these people.

I don't know what to expect right now.
All I know is that I'm here.
And I know for certain that God has brought me here.
For right now, that's enough.
Go time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Walking Wounded

I can't believe that I haven't written anything on here since the surfing incident. I've wanted to so many times but haven't been able to find the words. 

Frankly, this last month has sucked.

How's that for an opener? Just thought I'd lay it all out there. 

There have been times when I've felt helpless, depressed, and filled with fear. A month ago I was in such a great place. I'd found my groove; life was steady and I was feeling completely confident in preparing for this trip to Asia. I felt strong in so many ways. 

It's almost funny how fast things can change.

As she took the stitches out of my leg ten days after the accident I started to feel sick. I expected an ugly scar, not the wobbly, fleshy jello that I was looking at. The doctor said she thought it would probably be a good idea for me to go see a wound care specialist. They'd get me in sometime in the next couple days. I talked with a few people who said it was important for me to see someone within the first 24 hours, which started a series of phone calls that left me in a situation in which I had absolutely no control or power. For a week straight, several times a day, I would alternate between talking with the nurse handling my case and our insurance company. I've never experienced so much frustration in my life. 

It was like I had no voice.

I had this big, open wound that needed to heal, and no one would help me. I was literally crying on the phone to these people to please just do something so I could get the care that I needed. Instead, I got red tape. And everyone and their brother gave me advice about what they would do if they were me. 

It didn't help. 

I consider myself a somewhat intelligent, capable person, and I had to fight like crazy to receive the proper care. At the same time, my mom was in the hospital as well, dealing with all kinds of similar issues. Both my brothers and father were there every step of the way to advocate for her. I can't imagine what it's like for those in the margins; they don't have a chance. Through a ridiculous series of events (that did NOT include either the insurance company or the nurse I was working with) I was able to get into the wound care specialist. Coincidently, (or not) I was already his patient; he was the same doctor who administered my travel vaccines. 

The first doctor put strips over the wound to keep it together. This doctor ripped it open again in order for it to heal properly. Then he plucked out the internal stitches that were causing the problem. 

For the past month I've been processing the incredible way we were created and what it means to heal from the inside out. Oh the symbolism that has characterized my life. 

I thought I was so strong and heading in the right direction, but then life happened. The interruptions that came brought fear that I once again had to do battle with. We can have plans and time tables, lists and ideas, but the harder we work to control the circumstances of our lives, the less power we actually have. Life is filled with too many game-changing interruptions that leave us scrambling to figure out what in the world to make of it all.  It's never just your own life that you're dealing with either. Add the emotions, personalities, hopes, and fears of others to the equation and suddenly there's the potential for complete chaos.

I have trouble living in the interruptions because I'm a fixer. Honestly, that's probably just a nice way of saying I'm a controller. Just realizing that. Yet, there's no comfort in the massive scramble to control what's out of our hands as it is. Whether it's circumstances or relationships, I want things accomplished in my time frame. 

I want healing NOW. 

Unfortunately, that's not a realistic view of life. Wounds take time to heal. No matter how often I look at the hole in my leg, it's not going to just go away.

It takes time.
And work. 

It's constantly scraping the dead skin off to make space for the new growth. It's such a process. Even as the new skin forms, it won't heal in a way that will look the same as it was before. There will be a scar. Sure, it will fade over time, but it will always be there as a reminder. 

To not live in fear.
To know that the only control I have is my response to what's thrown at me.
To push forward and believe that we are created to heal. 
To honor the time that it takes.

And most of all, to advocate for those whose wounds seem hopeless. To speak up for those that cannot speak for themselves. To not accept no for an answer, and to refuse to throw in the towel when things get too hard or scary. 

God gives us glimpses of green, glimpses of renewal, to hope in that we won't have to live in our dead skin forever.