Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Art of Compassion- Simple Goes a Long Way

Jax has been sick for the past few days and last night went into a pretty bad coughing spell where he just couldn't catch his breath. I gave him the nebulizer. Didn't help. Listening to your child as he can't breath can be a pretty scary thing. It wasn't 911 scary, but urgent care scary. As a parent you know the difference.

I drove over to a place called Nite Owl at 9:30, filled out the paper work, submitted my insurance card and waited with my sick boy who was also carrying a fever of 103. By this point the coughing had slowed down but his breathing was still labored.

I got out my checkbook to pay the $80 co-pay and was told that they didn't take checks, which I had checked before I left. According to superpages, they accept checks. According to them, they don't. A lot of people have that issue, they told me unapologetically. It's not their site. As a business, it would probably be beneficial to take the simple step to contact the site administrator and fix it, duh. There's an edit button there if you are the business owner. I looked into it.

But whatever.
It was 10:00PM and my insurance had gone through and I had a 3-year old with breathing problems. Surely they could be reasonable.

I mean, we're talking about a 3-year old who couldn't breathe. 

The receptionist said she'd go speak with the doctor. 
She came back and said there's nothing they could do.

I reminded her that my kid couldn't breathe.

She told me to take him to the ER.
I reminded her he's right in front of her.

She told me policy is policy.

What doctor in their right mind refuses to see a 3-year old who can't breathe in the middle of the night? Seriously, I was boiling.
Yet another instance of feeling completely helpless in the name of healthcare.

All I needed was one small drop of compassion. 
Or simply a smidgen of common decency.

Nope, they wanted me to drive further across town and pay $400 to sit in a disgusting ER for hours at night with a sick child.

But it's good that they followed procedure. Rules are rules.

We headed home.
Neither Matt or I thought going to the ER was wise, but we were still worried. What if he got worse? And what about that fever? Why does stuff like this always have to happen late at night?

So I grabbed the credit card and headed back.
I'm sure they were excited to see us.

You don't send a mom away in that situation and expect high fives when she comes back. 

Jax got meds and the doctor got a pretty intense stare down.
Though I thought I was pretty calm considering. He danced around it, telling me if I think my kid can't breathe, call 911. Not the right words, buddy. How about simply looking me in the eye and saying, "I'm sorry, that shouldn't have happened."How far those words would have gone. Just a dose of humility. He asked if I wanted the co-pay waived next time to which I said I didn't want anything from him but to act like a human being when there's a 3-year old in front of you who can't breathe.

I sometimes wonder what life scenarios play out in people's lives to make them callous.

There was a ray of sunshine to the story though.
After being up all night with Jax, I stopped by his regular doctor's office this morning to see if I could speak with a nurse or leave a message about the breathing treatment he was given. Evidently this was not proper protocol. Tears welled up in my sleep-deprived eyes as I was scolded by the receptionist.

Not again.

But.

Then this woman made the choice to act with compassion.
She walked back to the nurses' station and brought my nurse to see me.

This nurse also made the choice to act with compassion.
She listened.
She answered my questions kindly.
She sympathized.
She hugged me.
She was everything a person working in healthcare should be.

These women restored dignity where it had been lost.
What they did was so simple but meant so much.



On a side note, I asked Jax what he thought of the doctor visit last night.
He said it was bad.
I asked him why.
"Because they made you sad."
Why was I sad?
"Because they wouldn't fix me."
True, but I told him I will always, always fight for him.
He gave me one of his Jaxie smiles, hugged me, and said, "I know that," even though I'm sure he had no idea what I was talking about. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

We Are Not Bound

Recently, I read a book called The Most Important Thing Happening, by Mark Steele, where the characters worked at a publishing company. Throughout the course of the day they realized they were in fact just characters in a story that had already been written for them. They would experience the same day over and over again as the story was read. However, they also observed that they had the ability to move the story along in new ways by learning from their past. They would come to realizations about themselves and others that they had to react to based on this knowledge. They discovered that they were both written and had words and a will of their own. The author wanted them to make decisions that influenced the other characters and would leave hints of this all around. But they were forgetful characters. Their choices were recurrent.

But.

Some characters were deeply effected. One approached the author with this:

All we ask is that we- that we take some of this with us. The ways that we have molded and shaped one another. A hint of the knowledge of you. It doesn't even have to be certainty- it can just be a notion. Something knocking around in the foggiest part of our minds that urges us to behave differently. I understand what you were trying to say now about the difference between seeking an answer and finding one. Finding an answer makes me stop hungering, stop hunting. But, chasing an elusive answer, especially one that feels like it might just be around the corner- it pushes me, shapes me. trusting something that had not been proven to me did more to strengthen the way I was written- much more than knowing for certain ever could have. Trusting you. Please- please- next time, let us- let me- see that sooner.

And that.
Is life.

We are forgetful creatures.
I mess up over and over again with the same silly things.  I chase after what doesn't bring peace. I react in the same ways when I'm hurt. I say stupid things. I make dumb choices that seem to just be a part of my make-up.

I choose the lesser story instead of pressing into the foggy unknown of something different.

What if I could just see sooner that this is not how it has to be? This is where I want to live. I know I'm going to screw up and make mistakes, but I'm not bound by how it has always been. Instead, what if I would read the hints that have been dropped along the way that point to One greater and live out of that knowledge, which is greater than all my mistakes, my throwing in of the towel, my giving up out of fear of not measuring up or that anything will actually make a difference anyway. Instead, I would run hard and keep running. Push through the pain. The uncertainty. The what-ifs.

What if we all truly allowed those around us to play an active role in molding and shaping us? What if we were better listeners and took people's words to heart. What if we paid attention to inciting incidents and believed that next time, we can respond differently, and the future will change because of it. But even if it doesn't change anything, at least we lived our part well.

Another character in the story was given opportunity after opportunity to act in behalf of other people, but every time he tried to interfere he would meet a force of pain so great that it stopped him. He didn't think he could do anything about it because it hurt too much. Then it dawned on him that the pain was there all along for him to push through, not to keep him from acting.

It seems that's where many of us live, on the verge.

My prayer is that we remember who we are. That we don't numb the Voice inside that sends us on this wild chase to the heart of God but that we listen well- to God, to others, and to all the signposts He has left all around us.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Lake

Ok.
So bear with me for a while.
You know when your brain just needs to think out of the box?
To stretch?
To see with new eyes?
To practice creativity?

Well that's where I am as of late.
Which makes for really weird writing, I know.
But it's just noticing the metaphors surrounding us and exploring them a bit.
I can't help it.
I'm an INFP.

So I was at the lake the other day half running, half strolling, half picture taking half just being my weird self and here's the stream of consciousness that came with it. It's like wanna-be poetry without taking the time to mess with meter and form and all that necessary stuff. And yes. There's a cuss word. FYI. It's not there to offend. It's to strengthen the metaphor. Just sayin'. Not that I need to. But whatever.

At the lake.
Death mingles with life with such fluidity
it's hard to tell where one begins and the other ends
where one story ends and the next begins
because
its all connected.
all parts of the whole
puzzle
picture
plan
interwoven and interdependent
spewing with creativity and purpose
a reflection of the seen and unseen.

it meets the pavement of second creation
where familiar feet and faces fumble,
stumble
and run to escape,
to tame,
to prove,
to conquer
to find peace with the whole
while other stories drive by filled with
pain
perplexity
passion
contained in passing sets of rubber tires.

dog shit and butterflies
hope metamorphoses on waste and rejection
prodigals puddling
knowing there is value worth seeking
and finding
even in the messiest messes
new stories finding place
space
time
new beginnings.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

We Keep Telling the Story

We tell stories.
We tell good, beautiful, hopeful stories.
Redemption stories.

We want them to be true.
We need them to be true.

Because too often reality is something else.
There are stories that die without ever finding their happy ending.
Too many stories.
Characters that never get their chance to bloom,
to write a different ending.

We try to bend, to control
Heck,
even to help and heal
but we're not the Author.

We don't hold the pen.

We make our choices.
They are the only ones we can make.
We play our part.
Well.
We let go.
And trust that the Author is good.

Story after story.
Time after time.

We tell stories.
We tell good, beautiful, hopeful stories.
Redemption stories.

Until it is the only Story left.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Passing on Great Stories to Our Kids


Last night I got to meet with a small group of students from a youth group that I spoke about Love146 with several months ago. These are teens whose hearts have been pricked by the desire to act in behalf of other people. How can you not love that? It's interesting because my story began in SE Asia but as they say, "All roads lead home." I realized last night how much my story is evolving. While a part of my heart and desire to see justice lies in SE Asia, now it's about girls and guys right here. Sometimes you have to travel far away from your own comfort zone to see the big picture so you realize what's happening in our own backyard. 

Our churches, our schools, our communities. 

The kids that I talked with last night wanted to live bold stories. They want to learn and they want to tell others. They already understand that there's so much more to a person than if they dress provocatively or act out. They shared their own stories of friends or people at school whose actions reflect the mess going on inside their hearts. Kids who only knew stories of pain and exploitation. 

I wonder if part of the problem with our culture is that we're not familiar with enough really good stories? Think of all the Disney stars that have gone down destructive paths. What if we could just begin to teach our kids better stories? Would it effect the choices they make? 

Miley Cyrus grew up in an environment that told her that being famous was the end all. It was important that people talk about her. As a young girl the way to do that was by being a Bible-quoting role model. While that story may look good, it's important to note what drives it. It's a story that sells- to tweens and to their parents. It revolved around the empire of Miley, which is a dangerous place for anyone, especially a teenager. When she grew up and learned the way to be the "it" girl in the over-18 economy is using her body, than that's what she did because that's how she was taught. Use whatever means necessary to make the most people talk about you, generating the most amount of cash. She was the "it" girl as Hannah Montana and she is the "it" girl now because we are the ones who put her there. Unfortunately, she is merely a by-product of a culture that has gone horribly wrong when it comes to selling a product; she is no longer a person, she's an enterprise. It is the dark side of capitalism paired with a sex-obsessed culture. We look at her and we shake our heads and call her a slut but it was our dollars that bought her all along. She is our mirror. We are her wrecking ball. 

What if she had been told a better story?
What if she had learned that life was not about becoming famous? What if she was taught to use her voice for something bigger than herself? I can't help but think of the often used C.S. Lewis quote,

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If there's one thing I know about human beings it's that we all want to be a part of something. It's written in us. We want a role in this grand drama playing out around us, but if the stories we are hearing are weak, we will be weak. And in the upside down world that we live in what is painted as weak and strong are actually quite opposites. The story that Miley Cyrus and so many other girls find themselves a part of says that strength is in doing what we want, when we want, how we want because we do what we want to!

I came across a far better story this morning. It's about a young woman named Malala, the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. You may have heard of her before. At fourteen, she was an advocate for education in her town in Pakistan where the Taliban was shutting down schools and murdering those who opposed them. Malala does not see the world as revolving around her, but she is a voice for young women everywhere. Her father taught her a better story and she believed him. The Taliban shot her in the head because of it, yet she survived and is still telling the story, living the story. Take a minute to check out what she has to say in her own words, particularly taking note of what she said her thoughts were before the incident about how she would respond if the Taliban came after her. 

There are deeper, better stories to pass onto our children. Ones that don't revolve around turning a profit, but revealing the image of God embedded in all people. Wendell Berry once said, "There is no sacred and secular. There is only sacred and desecrated." Let's pass on that which is sacred instead of what has been desecrated. 

These are the stories I'm hoping to pass on to my children. 


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Art of Losing Well

Em and Jax were in a coloring contest this weekend. The winner was to be notified by phone that same afternoon, so Em waited all day for a phone call. She was pretty confident her perfectly colored pumpkin would take home first. Matt told me a story about how when he was about the same age, he and his little brother entered a coloring contest, too. Matt colored the best green witch anyone had ever seen while Joel did his in rainbow.

Seriously. How many rainbow witches have you ever seen?

Matt's perfectly green witch lost; Joel's multi-colored dream witch won. Matt's still a little bitter, so when Jax turned in his ROYGBIV pumpkin, we laughed at how ironic it would be if he won.

Which he did.

Oh, my Em. She thought she had it in the bag. She was devastated when we had to tell her that she didn't win this time. Poor girl burst into tears. Jax could have cared less if he won or lost. But he did win, so we were going to celebrate. Em learned the hard lesson that she's not always going to win and that it's okay to be sad about it. For a moment. While she had a cry fest, Jax and I comforted her with hugs. Matt comforted her with stories of his own loss to his little brother and how losing is a part of life. As a high school and college athlete, he knew this well. For once, we totally nailed this parenting speech. Whether or not her five-year old self would agree, I'm not sure, but the day ended with smiles as we came up with a Jaxie Won! dance and went to pick up his prize pumpkin.


I wonder if Em will remember this moment like her daddy did? Will it change how she thinks next time she loses? Will she be more inclined to celebrate with the winner? I hope so. I love that she'll have plenty of opportunities to learn this though. Not that I want my daughter to lose. Of course I want her to win, but more than that, I want her to know that it's not the most important thing. I want her to genuinely be able to celebrate someone else's victory without dwelling on her own loss. On the other hand, I hope that I'm a mom that understands and is able to love her well when she can't get passed those ugly feelings. Those days will come, too. More than anything, I want them to know without a shadow of a doubt that they are completely loved right where they are.



Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 FL Human Trafficking Summit- the Faces Behind the "Cause"

The other day I wrote about being liberated from causes because of how easy it is to disconnect. It has a tendency to either sensationalize or sanitize. We're talking about real people though. Real lives. Real stories. What we see as a cause is someone else's reality.

I was reminded of that yesterday as I listened to two survivors of sex trafficking. These women are still in the middle of their story. They are both the same girls who were trafficked, while years later, not the same at all.  Their past is a part of them, and while they've found healing, I'm certain it's still a process. This is important to note as the story of all of us. As long as we are alive, our stories continue to unfold. While we may currently be in a safe chapter, we must remember that we all have chapters we're not proud of. Who we are today is not the same as who we were five years ago and chances are we will not be exactly the same as who will be five years down the road. So many factors play into how we are shaped. Maybe if we can remember this, we'll be more apt to extend grace to others, knowing that their story is not sealed. There are more pages to be filled, more time for redemption.

The women that I heard speak yesterday would have even identified themselves as trafficking victims up until a few years ago. Neither were even aware of the label. One was abused at home from a young age, taught that it was a cultural expectation. She would skip out of school to turn tricks arranged by a family member. She is currently on her third marriage, attributing this to the fact that she learned late in life what it meant to love and be loved.

The other woman was caught up in prostitution for four years in fifteen states. She thought her pimp loved her. He started out kind and gentle, giving her attention that she craved. When he switched and began beating her and forcing her into prostitution, she was already hooked. She loved him desperately and would do anything to stay with him.

While both of these women had such different stories, much of what they said was the same when it came to what we can do to help those that have been exploited. At certain parts of their lives, these women were operating from a brokenness that left absolutely nothing left to give. There were times they were mean. Times they didn't want help and resisted those that tried. Even in the darkest parts of their story they needed people that just showed up. People that would love them regardless of what they did, even if that meant that they returned to the person that was pimping them out. They needed people that were patient, knowing that healing is not a straight line. They needed to be loved "with a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love."

When they found that love, they realized the power of their story and how it must be shared. They didn't want to tell their story for fear of judgement but as one pointed out, Christ's love compelled her. She couldn't stay silent while other girls were being still being exploited. Both women realized that they had to fight for others in a way that they were not fought for. They had to act. They still face obstacles but they are changing lives.

One woman shared from Proverbs 24 and 31:

"Rescue those being led away to death;
    hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
 If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,'
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?"


"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
 Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Hearing these ladies stories was such a great reminder of how we are all responsible for each other. "We knew nothing about this" carries no weight. We know. So we do.

There's a couple resources that I've discovered in the last few months that has really helped see the stories behind the "cause." They're both hard to read but important stories that give insight into the mindset of these young women and what can lead to this type of exploitation. One is a book put out by Shared Hope International called Renting Lacy. The other is Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Murder Mystery.

W.E.B. Du Bois said, “There is but one coward on earth, and that is the coward that dare not know.” Learn. Study. Know. Act.

Love does.
Always.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Toxic

I thought I was going to die this weekend.
For real.
This bug bite on my leg got infected and over the course of two days I watched it slowly spread across the front of my thigh and run down the back of my leg. I pictured it rotting before my very eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I could feel the toxins running through my blood. Hot, red, and swollen. So maybe I've read way too many articles about flesh eating bacteria, but since my mom and mother-in-law have too, I was in good company.

Then yesterday morning we woke up to no water pressure, and found out after drinking the water we were on a boil advisory for the next 48 hours. Saweeeet.

And remember the whole wall thing?

So let's recap.

Toxic body.
Toxic water.
Toxic air.

My goodness. We seem to be a bit of a mess here in Mulberry.

It's actually pretty funny. When you think about it. Because really, none of it's going to kill us. It's frustrating and annoying but pretty funny.

Isn't that life?
It's like this ridiculous pendulum swing from crazy good to just craaaazy.

And there's no choice but to laugh at the absurdity sometimes of
Why it is so. freaking. toxic. sometimes.

One minute you're drinking from the deep wells of it- all the joys and beautiful moments, and then just a small drop of ugly spills in. A poorly timed word. A quick eye roll. And the sinking feeling creeps in. Just a drop. Not enough to steal. Yet. But if left alone.

Our words.
Fire and water.
Bringing hurt or healing.

A spark.
James says that "by our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony into chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell."

We can be toxic.
With our spouses, our children, our friends. With people we don't even know.
Our words can hurt. So quickly.

In community.
Gossip.
Busy bodies. Knowing looks that know nothing.
Leaking in toxicity that has no place.
It steals.
It kills.
It destroys.

Or.
We can live by a different Spirit.
One whose words give life. As a spark can quickly set off a fire, our words can also quench a thirsty soul.
Living upside down in a world whose expectations are based on fear and formulas, replacing them with grace and truth.
And above all love.
Holy Spirit love.
Love that only makes sense as other than our toxic flesh.
Other than but empowering within.
Speaking strongly, standing boldly.

Healing.
Wounds finding hope.
Chasing out the toxic sludge of irresponsible words.
Flourishing. Bringing life.
Seeing life. And people. As good gifts from the hands of a creative and abundantly generous God.
Who. Loves. Us. Fully.
Unified and made whole in Him.
Made in His image.
Reflecting His image.
With tongues tamed through Spirit fire and washed in grace.
Bringing life.
Abundant.
Beautiful, crazy.
Gift of life.

It's funny, really. Isn't it?
Forget the toxic.
Don't give it space.
And watch it dissipate.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Paleo for Dummies Like Me



My family went Paleo yesterday. We're a day in and it's going well, I guess. Except for the fact that I'm sitting here at Starbucks chomping on a cucumber and sugar snap peas when there's scones and salted caramel hot chocolate inside. Whatever. We can do this.

Ugg.

It's not that I want my kids to be Paleo freaks. I'm being very lenient with them. They both ate chocolate pudding with lunch yesterday. And a little vanilla ice cream after dinner. I may or may not be living vicariously through my children's dessert eating right now. It's just that along with that chocolate pudding I want them to get in the habit of eating food that actually nourishes their bodies, too.

A few weeks ago I took Jax to the doctor, and she noticed that he looked a bit pale. Matt and I had both thought this before but attributed it to the fact that the boy has Scandinavian genes and nether of his parents are particularly bronze. She wanted to run blood tests though. As it turns out he's anemic and needs to up his veggie intake.

What 3-year old likes veggies?
What 32-year old likes veggies?

I did really well for the first week. He ate them with pretty much every meal. And since the doctor said it, who is evidently more of an authority than his silly mommy, he ate them.

"The doctor saaaid," he sang each time he stuck a piece of broccoli in his mouth.

What was convenient soon took over though. My meals weren't planned around getting our veggies, our meals were planned around what we could get quickly, which for me usually doesn't include a whole lot of vegetables. So, I realized if I'm going to get my family to eat what they need to eat in order to be healthy, I need to have a plan.

I'm not particularly good with plans. 

It's not that I think Paleo is superior to any other way of eating, but it includes lots of fresh food and provides me with structure. I decided to get everyone on board, first sitting down with the kids on Sunday night and showing them pictures of different colorful, veggie-filled Paleo lunches. They told me what they wanted and what they didn't. It actually worked really well. Since all the choices available were good, they couldn't choose poorly. They liked being involved. Jax wasn't in school but I packed his lunch anyway, along with mine, so we wouldn't be out and about and suddenly find ourselves starving and cranky, needing to grab something. We were prepared. Plus, I made Matt his lunch, which I haven't done in years, but I actually enjoyed that, too. It was fun to do something for him. Of course it helped that he both called and told me when he got home how much he enjoyed it, too.

I have to be intentional if we're going to change our family's eating habits. I do really well for short spurts and then give up though. Not give up, just stop planning ahead. Maybe that will happen again. I don't know. Or maybe it will put us on a trajectory of actually being a family five years down the road that makes good food choices, often. Maybe I'll become a mom that likes to cook as an expression of love to those around me. Or maybe it'll just stay as a necessary evil that I'll always want to choose ordering a pizza over. And that would be okay too. My boy will somehow get his veggies in his little white body though. I'm committed. :)

Would love it if you had any good recipes to pass along!

Speaking of eating good food, have you seen this video that Chipotle did?? I love it. Makes me happy. Reminds me that choosing to eat good, natural food is good for all of us.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Liberation from Causes

"That is such a great cause."
"That's so awesome that you're involved in a cause like that."
"What an important cause to support."

These phrases are nails on a blackboard.
I've used them myself.
And it's not that there's anything wrong with a cause, per se.
Sometimes it's a launching point that catapults someone to the next step.
It's just that it's so easy for a cause to stay just that.
A cause. 
A thing to support that evokes an emotional sigh. 

This is what can be difficult about being involved with anti-trafficking efforts. 
It's an easy cause to latch onto.
I mean, what decent human being doesn't want to end human trafficking?

There's a book that I read several months ago called Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God that I keep sneaking peeks at again on my Kindle. It talks about the powers of this world and how we are not to imitate them, even in efforts to do good. Instead, it presents a theology of weakness that relies on the tabernacling of God both in our own lives and in communal life. Jesus did not approach the leaders of the day to get his message out, but ordinary (or even less than ordinary) men and women. It seems I talk about this idea a lot but it's just so counter-intuitive that I need to remind myself over and over again. I don't naturally want to trust God to work in and through me; I want to do what I can to urge him along.

Marva J. Dawn says, "It is not truly liberating if we participate in worthy (even biblical) causes just because the media makes them the 'issue of the day.' Such fads and fashions pass away when they are no longer front page news."

If we as a (universal) church are to be involved in human trafficking efforts, causes, missions- however we want to label them, then we must make sure that what we are doing looks more like the posture of Jesus than the posture of the powers of this world.

So how do we know whether it's something that we should be a part of or if it's just another fad?

It's kind of a Sunday school answer.

Prayer and listening to God.
When we're choosing which areas to be involved in, we should be asking God. Duh. Sometimes decisions feel like a bit of a trust fall. Yet when we know who will catch us it's easier to let go. When we're already immersed in knowing Him there are a couple ways that help discern God's voice through the narrative of Scripture.

So that brings the question, why trafficking?
A couple simple reasons, actually. 

Theology, what I know from the pages of Scripture to be true, informs who I am and what I do.
At some time in our lives we are all enslaved and need liberation.  As one liberated I am now an *agent of liberation, reconciling all things under Christ. And while salvation is the ultimate liberation, the act of being liberated is an ongoing process. It is never just personal, as we are human beings created to commune with each other. Our liberation is tied together with others, as what we do effects those around us. We are connected to each other as well as responsible to each other. When I find myself enslaved to myself and my own self-interests, it impacts those around me, whether that's my husband and kids or the lady I get annoyed at on the road for not driving as fast as I think she should. This is destructive for everyone around me. Human trafficking is the ultimate expression of slavery that both effects the individual and the community. It is exploitation that effects every aspect of a person's being- physically, mentally, and spiritually. Christ is the only one from whom true freedom can come. We live it when our lives have been changed by it.

The opportunities right in front of us.
The beginning of all of this in my life came through relationships that I've had for years. Friends introduced me to new friends who broadened my circle and helped me see a bigger picture. I was given eyes that have been learning to see what's right in front of me. And that is crucial- it's right in front of me. It's local. It's part of the make-up of our own community. I see things differently and seek out people and places that have been right there all along but I didn't have eyes to see before. I've been able to meet new people that continue this cycle. It's pretty awesome, actually. I get to build relationships with people I wouldn't encounter for any other reason. For a while I wanted to depend on my already-friends to share my passions, but this way is so much better. They can all continue on in the ways in which God made them to impact the world and I can learn how to best support them as they do that, but at the same time I get to meet more incredible people to collaborate with. This is one of the most beautiful ways to see God answer prayers, in giving us eyes to see what is right in front of us. This is where the Holy Spirit guides, in showing us how to be a part of addressing the needs in our path.

*Sidenote- And this is super important- when it comes to the expression "agents of liberation" - the end does not justify the means. How we do this is just as important as that we do it at all- not through oppressive means that are just an alternative to another way of controlling or holding power above, but through a theology of weakness that relies on the power of the cross (God's ultimate display of power over evil, sin, death and corrupted power through an act of weakness). We cannot force, we can offer. We cannot manipulate, we can love. This is especially true in dealing with people who are used to being controlled.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Silence and Shame - How Do We Increase the Dialogue?

When I was in ninth grade I got a phone call from an adult male who asked to speak to me and then kept asking who my favorite teacher was. I had two male teachers at the time and didn't know if I recognized the voice on the other end or not. I should have hung up when he persisted. Then he started talking about how he saw my "gorgeous little ass everyday" and began telling me the X-rated things he wanted to do to me. I was in shock. And mortified. And scared. I was home alone and called up my best friend who lived behind me. Her mom came to get me and when my parents came home my uber-protective mom called the cops. They came to file a police report but I never told anyone everything that he said. It was just too disgusting and made me feel dirty, so I never repeated it and seriously blocked it out. His words made me feel such shame that I couldn't even say them out loud.

It was completely humiliating.

My senior year of high school I had an art teacher that would often say borderline inappropriate things to me. It wasn't anything major; he would just comment on how I looked and it made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was in my head though. Then one day he took me aside and told me how he had seen me around all year and had always wanted to have me in his class. Total inappropriateness confirmed, I stopped doing work in his class and got a C. I shut down and didn't tell anyone about it because again, I felt shamed and embarrassed.

While these incidents weren't life defining, both had an impact, which seems almost silly because compared to a lot of people, these incidents were no big deal.
But, it started to shift the way I looked at men.
It made me a bit distrustful. Especially of men in positions of authority.
Because there were other incidents I knew of during this time period with men that were supposed to be trusted, but they are not my stories to tell.

I'm not saying I'm screwed up because of any of this. And I'm not playing the blame game with men in general. All I'm saying with my very mild encounters is I'm pretty sure it's the universal story of growing up female.

I can't imagine what it must be like for someone who has endured abuse.
And it scares the heck out of me because I totally understand how people never say a word.

There was a time in college when I received a couple creepy, threatening emails. Actually, they weren't even threatening me but a guy that I had been hanging around with but was no longer (a long, weird story). When I filed a report with Campus Safety, and it turned out that the emails had come from his computer, I kid you not, the officer said to me, "You don't really think ___ did it, do you? I mean, he's such a nice guy." I should have said whole-heartedly that I was certain he did, but instead I pretty much just let it go.

I have such regret about that.

I can't imagine what it must be like for someone who has endured abuse.
A child. 
A teenager.
And it scares the heck out of me because I totally understand how people never say a word.

I've had this conversation with several friends about what this means for our own kids. How in the world do we prepare them? How do we explain things in a way to a child that, God forbid, if anything did ever happen to them, they would not be shamed out of telling us? How do we prepare our kids while at the same time not scare the crap out of them? How do we find balance between being crazy over-protective and completely naive to the world around us?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Caring for What We Create

I saw this project on twitter this afternoon and fell in love. What a great way to mesh the creativity of both a parent and a child. I liked it so much that I went looking for my old portfolio to see if I had anything that would work. Couldn't find it. I vaguely remember throwing it out during one of my de-cluttering binges. I figured I wasn't going to do anything with it anyway. It was mostly just sketches from a couple classes I took to finish my art minor while I was pregnant with Emma. But oh, the symbolism that could have been there with her completing something I had started while she was growing inside me. Saaaad. I wish I had shown more care for what I had created, even if it was just some silly drawings.

This evening, I got thinking about the care that should be given to what we create.

Matt's uncle came over for the second time to look at some problems we're having with our house. The walls are leaking, growing mold and destroying our wood floors. Now, I understand, this is part of owning your own home. There's going to be things you'll have to fix. Stuff breaks. It happens. But with our house, there's a couple things about this particular situation that just really bother me. From what it seems, it's due to poor craftmanship that wasn't limited to our house. Rumor has it that several homes in the neighborhood have had the same problem. I remember being shocked by how quickly our neighborhood went from a handful of houses to stuffed full in a matter of months. I also remember being in the office listening to a sales person push people to spend more than what they were comfortable paying. But hey, as long as the product sells, who cares what happens afterwards? The foreclosed houses and unkept yards didn't effect them. So up the houses went. Quickly.

If this was our first problem, it wouldn't be a big deal, but our first issue was even worse. We had Chinese drywall, which essentially meant our walls released toxic gasses. Really great for the health of our children. Yes, it was "made right" and fixed but not without signing papers saying we wouldn't sue for their negligence. And negligence it was, as this was a good year after builders realized their materials could be tainted.

So here we are again, with our back wall literally crying when it rains, growing mold that once again, doesn't effect the builder, but the lungs of my small children. So thank you, to the powers that be, for caring more about profit than people. Because let's just be honest about it. Yes, I understand that you are a large company. But question, why can't we get it through our heads that bigger does not necessarily mean better? The health of an organization is not necessarily in it's growth if that means you can't care well for those in front of you.

It's not that I wish my first home was custom built. Not at all. I just wish that there was care put into building it. I wish there was pride in workmanship. Mostly, I wish my greedy little eyes hadn't looked for the most house for the least amount of money but instead looked for a well-loved house with a history.

This has been a reminder for me in some big picture concepts:

1. What you do effects everyone around you. 
Wow. This has been huge lately. Another post in itself because it extends to all aspects of life, but for this, we'll stick with our work. Or simply what we create. We have opportunity to add beauty to the lives of those around us. We are responsible for each other. Act like it. Live like what you do isn't just about you. Or your wallet. Our selfish actions have consequences, even when it seems it's only about self, it's not.

2. Take pride in what you do as a creator/creative being.
See your God-given abilities as gifts from God and regift the heck out of them. We are all created with a purpose. Gift the world and serve as you are uniquely made to do. Don't be lazy with what you've been given and don't get all puffed up about it either. Recognize yourself as the work of an incredible Creator and get creative yourself. Take joy in creativity.

3. Buy local.
This is a huge source of so many of our problems. When those selling to us have no connection to us, and when life spins around the economy, when choices of saving money or caring for people come up, most will choose the dollar over a mass of nameless faces. How else can we possibly explain the fact that we still buy chocolate harvested by children and wear clothes made under slave labor? And I admit, I am still guilty of this. Evidently, this extends beyond just our food and small products, too. When we think locally, it's about relationships. It is much more difficult to not care about the welfare of someone with whom you have looked in the eye.

Finally, I want my children to reach their full creative potential, but not at the expense of others. I pray that they become wise little creators who learn how to love others with the gifts they've been given and not use people for their own gain. I pray that making money is not what drives them the most. I pray that they never sacrifice relationships to chase their dreams or use their creative abilities in ways that hurt others, knowingly or not. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blurred Lines

So we're all so totally over the whole blurred lines conversation. Every angle has been covered and analyzed to death. It's funny, depending on who you talk to, the lines are still blurred though. I understand that we live in a society where we're all coming to the table with different views on sex and displays of sexuality.

I get it.
Totally.
But. And here's the big but because I'm not sure what the answer is. BUT- aren't there certain lines that we can all, as human beings, hold fast to? For instance, our children. Can't we all just say enough is a freaking nuff and hold our kids sexuality to be sacred ground? While what's done in secret is exposed in big scandals like what happened at Penn State last fall, instead of being shocked and wondering how in the world so many people failed those kids, could we possibly start looking in the mirror instead? Can we look all around at what's in plain sight that fuels this exploitation and abuse of our kids and say we won't stand for it a second longer? Seriously. Because when scandal rocks our schools, our churches, our society in general, we all need to take a second to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, "What could I have done to stop this?" How can we prevent this from ever happening?

But we'll face blurred lines.
Fights that are bigger than we can handle.

I think audacious is the word I've heard to tackle fights like this.

So what fuels child exploitation that is right before our eyes? While I'm sure there are many things, here is what I have my sights set on right now because I stumbled upon it while looking for a cartoon for my children the other day. Verizon Fios On Demand has an adult section three or four clicks down from Kids Zone and if your system is anything like mine, it gets stuck sometimes and you end up just pounding on buttons to get it to do anything. So, lo and behold, I ended up in the adult section and got so freaking angry about what I saw there. A whole set of titles devoted to TEEN SEX movies. And again, I get it. Eighteen and nineteen year olds are technically adults of age to make these types of movies.

That's not the point. 
The point is that this pornography in particular fuels demand for young girls. Our kids. And I can tell you this for sure, the demand for young girls is high already. The average age a girl is coerced into commercial sex trafficking is thirteen years old. When a man solicits a prostitute on Craigslist or visits a massage parlor or gets sexual favors from a girl he meets at a strip joint, do you think he checks her documentation to make sure she's of legal age, especially after he's answered the ad that has advertised the girl as young?? But in mainstream big businesses, like Verizon, we say it's okay for them to do this because it's a blurred line. These particular girls are of age. But then we're shocked when child sex trafficking happens right in our own communities and we turn our eyes away from the enablers.

Please, can't enough be enough? 

I called Verizon on this and they said there's nothing they can do. File a complaint with the Federal Commission. I kind of took that as being blown off. If it were just about me, I'd be annoyed, but whatever. However, it's not about me. It's about our kids. It's about looking at what's fueling demand for child sex trafficking right in the face and saying, "NO MORE."

Someone recommended that I start a petition, so I did. In almost 24-hours we're 125 signatures strong. I realize this is small potatoes. I realize that we would probably need thousands of signatures to possibly make any difference at all. And I realize I'm up against something that many people may just roll their eyes at and say it's just a blurred line. Forget it. But maybe, just maybe it's audacious. Maybe it's not caring that we're up against something too big. Maybe it's about believing in something bigger than our own efforts because maybe there are glimpses in this life right now of wrongs made right. Maybe there's things worth fighting for, even if we're bound to lose.

I choose to live in a world of what ought to be. I think may faith ensures that. A world where not quite yet, but someday, all wrongs will be made right. I won't give up on that hope because I won't give up on the hope of the One who will make all things new.

Will you join me?

Please, take a moment to sign the petition and share. 
Verizon Fios Change.org Petition

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Justice and Paula Deen

My first year teaching, my sophomore class read How to Kill a Mockingbird. There were parts of the book that we read out loud, including a section that used the "n-word." I had one black girl in my class. We had discussed the time period in which the book was written and talked about how while this was a story that exemplified racism, it didn't condone it but fought against it. However, all the single black girl in my class heard was the white teacher say the n-word in a room full of white students and it made her feel small. I know this because her mom called and told me.

I felt awful. 
It was far from my intention.
I should have talked to her ahead of time. I should have put myself in her shoes (hello To Kill a Mockingbird!) but the thought didn't even cross my mind. I was just plain ignorant. 

Language is so powerful.
The one who controls the language, holds the power. 
Back in the day, when white people used the n-word, it asserted power over black people. 
It said you are less than me. 
It stole the God-given dignity of another human being.
It dehumanized a whole race of people.

The funny thing about language is how it evolves.
When black people use the n-word with each other, it takes the power of the word out of the hand of the dominant group. Changing the definition changes the structure of power and control. This is why it is acceptable for a black person to use the word while still being unacceptable for a white person to use it. They now control the meaning of the word. That is also why the term reverse racism doesn't make sense. Racism is about power over someone. If you are not part of the dominant group, you can be prejudice towards someone of another race but without power it can't be racism.

The problem is, if you're a part of the dominant group, it can be really hard to notice that the cards are stacked pretty high in your favor while they're not for everyone. It's really difficult to acknowledge that our systems may, in fact, keep others down. And it's really, really hard to consider changing a world when it benefits you if it just stays the same.

This is why Paula Deen's words are important. 
As is the collapse of her empire.

Many say it is unjust. She's just a scapegoat of political correctness.
Why do others get a pass?
Perhaps they're right, but you know what? Paula Deen has ample means to defend herself. I'm sure the lawyers that she's hired are the best of the best. 

I hope that justice is served.
I fully believe in justice for all. 
The rich. 
The poor. 

However, when it comes to justice, there's a theme that runs throughout Scripture about the God that always takes up the cause of the oppressed.

That is not to say that God doesn't care about justice for the rich and powerful. He is a God of justice, all around. However, some have much more means to fight for justice than others. 
Throughout the Bible, we see God fighting for the vulnerable when they don't have the ability to fight for themselves.

It's true that many people share the same attitudes as Paula Deen and are not penalized. Often times life isn't fair. However, if it's a conversation about fairness, we know in what direction the pendulum usually swings. We could see this as an opportunity for positive change. When it comes to the actual lawsuit, the law may fall in favor of Deen. Her loss of endorsements is something else entirely, which doesn't signal a loss of liberty to be any type of jerk you want to be because you have the "right" to it, but maybe it's a signal that it's time to take responsibility towards our fellow man. Perhaps we could turn a corner in the talk about racism and consider that racial reconciliation in this country may come from passive nonracists saying enough is enough and become active nonracists. There is grace enough for every person who has ever looked at their fellow man as inferior. I'm not saying I want to see the fall of Paula Deen. All I'm saying is I want to walk in the other's shoes for a moment.

Paula Deen has plenty of people fighting for her. 
Not everyone is afforded that luxury.

Monday, June 17, 2013

S.O.A.P. PROJECT

Can you take a minute to watch this news report or read the article?

http://www.wtsp.com/news/topstories/article/320873/250/Police-Man-held-two-teens-for-prostitution

Last week in Tampa two 16-year old girls were prostituted in an America's Best Value Inn & Suites. The hotel owner had called the police about a disturbance, and when police arrived, they found the family of these girls trying to get them back. They had run away from home, and were being prostituted by a 33-year old man.

Last month in Polk county, there was a prostitution bust of 92 prostitutes, pimps, and johns. The Ledger listed all 92 suspects, including a 15-year old girl. Again, she was a runaway who had been pimped out.

http://www.theledger.com/article/20130513/NEWS/130519770


These aren't rare cases. This is typical of human trafficking in the United States.
This is just what made the news right here in the last month.

Within the first 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 children are lured into commercial sexual exploitation (National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrown-away Children).

That's just the first 48 hours. If you read about the bust here in our county, you'll notice that many of the girls are around 20-years old. Some have been arrested for prostitution before. The average age that girls and boys enter into being trafficked ranges from 11-14 years old, according to Ernie Allen, the president of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Many of these "older" girls very well may have been on the streets since they were kids.

There are tangible ways we can help.

Our Love146 task force is taking on the S.O.A.P. project this summer. S.O.A.P. stands for Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution. The project was started by Theresa Flores, who was trafficked herself as a teen. Now she works to prevent this from happening to others.

The S.O.A.P. project targets high risk hotels and provides a monthly supply of soap to each room labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888). We approach hotel owners with photos of missing/runaway teens in our area and ask the staff to be on the look-out for these kids. We also provide training on what risk factors to look for to spot trafficking. Each month volunteers label these bars of soap and deliver them to the hotels. It's that simple.


Right now we only have enough money to cover one or two hotels in our city, but I would love to have every hotel under $50/night covered. It's such a simple, tangible way to seek the welfare of our city. 
If you are interested in being a part of this project, shoot me an email at kelly_issakainen@hotmail.com. 



Monday, June 10, 2013

The Learning Process: The List Continues

I've been thinking more about the process of learning to add to my list.
Here's an important one, I think.

It pushes you places you don't want to go.
It's not learning unless there's challenge. Otherwise, it's just reinforcement. There's nothing wrong with reinforcing what you already know, but call it as it is. For me, the places I don't want to go have spreadsheets and formulas.

The places where concrete facts and logic reign.
But growth is usually uncomfortable. 

Numbers. 
Graphs. 
Structure.
Planning. 
Organizing.

Black and white.

Gaaaahhhhhh. 
Seriously.

I'm making a conscious effort to listen with new ears, and you know what? Some of this actually makes sense. I sat with Matt this weekend and tried to understand the spreadsheet in front of me. I read a chapter in my Stats book for comprehension instead of just completion. I stopped fighting it and could actually see how all of this has benefit. Maybe my world has a little space for some black and white. Thinking outside the box for me may even involve a system and a spreadsheet.

I'm trying.
I'm freaking trying.
And while this is so not a big deal in the big scheme of things, I'm learning from it. I've thought about what it looks like in terms of faith and learning.

The places I don't want to go have evolved over the years. What's funny is how much I used to think in black and white. But then life happened. In my experience, my faith couldn't survive in black and white. It would have cracked and shattered into a thousand pieces.

In fact, it did. 

But God in his loving kindness put it back together in deeper, richer ways that'll take eternity to understand.

I tend to clash a bit with black and white thinkers. I'm most comfortable in process; they with their feet firmly planted. We're both connected deeply to the root system, but while I need the freedom of feeling the sway of the wind, they need the security of the trunk. Neither is right or wrong. Life is just wonderfully diverse. We both need the tension of the other.

To push.
To probe.
Strengthening.
Stretching. 

Some people have an intense desire to defend their faith.
Stand up for truth.
But those are the things that sent my running from Jesus, not to him.

Concrete facts aren't my signposts.
For some they are.

But, I'm willing to keep an open-mind. 
To approach black and white with grace, praying for wisdom.
Hoping the two can walk with each other instead of under or above. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Good Buzz (Word of the Day)

When I finished undergrad, the term life-long learner was the buzz word of the day. I swear I incorporated it into every paper I wrote my senior year. It's a great term, but I can't say I really used it with much conviction back then.

I want to be a lifelong learner, I want my children to be lifelong learners and I want life to be shared with others that are passionate about the lifelong pursuit of learning. Along the way, I've realized it's not nearly as simple as it sounds.

I'm working through the process of learning as an adult. Here's what I've come up with so far:

1. It's deeply personal.
Sometimes being challenged with new ideas is like breathing a big sigh of relief. It's almost as if the thought was there all along but you just couldn't grasp it yet. It meets you where you're at and moves you along. Other times it's scary. Not in a frightening way, but in a oh-crap-now-I-have-respond-to-this-but-I'm-not-sure-if-I-have-what-it-takes kind of way. Ok, so maybe that is downright frightening.

2. It's communal.
If there's one thing I've learned this year in an online Master's program, it's that learning is meant to be done with others. Online education doesn't allow for busy people to gain access to education, it makes for isolated learning that should be communal. It's meant to be worked through with a community of people so you can hash it out together. There have been so many times when I wish I could just sit with others in the same boat. I just needed an ounce of solidarity. Honestly, it's been one of the loneliest years of my life. Not only because of the time that it takes away from the people that are right in front of me but because of the mental exhaustion it's caused from trying to work through ideas alone. I didn't expect that. Solidarity gives the motivation to push through. Isolation convinces you that pushing through doesn't matter. This is something I've had to battle a lot lately.

3. It's meant to be shared.
I'm not sure how to word this one because it's similar to communal but not quite. I think it's a combination of my first two points. I wish there was a word to describe what I'm thinking but I've got nothing. There's probably some sweet Japanese word that says it perfectly. No matter. When you're seeing the world with new eyes, you want everyone you love to put on the same glasses so they can see what you see. You want them to understand it because in understanding it they can understand you. But sometimes they don't. It can feel like you're gifting a part of yourself to them but they won't take it.  It's painful but in a way that's hard to identify. It leads to walls if ignored.

4. It makes you gain weight.
Or maybe that's just me. Seriously, not sure I would have signed up for this if I knew about the extra 10 pounds I'd be packing. Who am I kidding? Almost 15. But it's true. Not only do I not have the time to work out like I used to, but the bigger problem is that I get the nervous munchies when I'm trying to work through stuff all by my lonesome. And yes, I realize what a loser this makes me sound like. So be it. The stress of 15 extra pounds on this girl is not pretty in many ways. Hate it. I think it would be helpful to find a better balance of working out my mind and body.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Wanna See You Be Brave

To the senior girls of HBC,

So, I'm sitting here at Starbuck's, listening to music and finishing up a letter of recommendation for one of you beautiful ladies and can't help but reflect over the last three years that I've had the privilege of knowing you all.

Wow.

I'm so thankful for the opportunity I've had to be a part of your lives these last years. Thank you for letting me in. I originally wanted to be a youth leader so I could invest in the lives of teenagers, but I didn't realize then the impact that you would have on me. I think of all that you ladies have been through in these years and how much I've learned from you. I've grown right alongside you as I've watched your lives unfold. You've endured heartache and trials that have sometimes left you completely broken, but each one of you have gotten back and kept moving forward. Life is messy; you know that better than anyone, but it is also so wonderfully beautiful.

Some of you have been walking in the desert for so long now, but I'm glad for the glimpses of hope that are breaking through. I'm so proud of each of you for enduring and pray that this summer before college brings you green pastures to rest awhile. I pray that college will be a dynamic time of growth as you learn new things, explore new ideas, and form new relationships. It won't always be easy, that we know for certain, but from where you've come, you know that God somehow gives you the strength to get through whatever comes your way. And not just get through it, but to THRIVE.

One of the greatest gifts that I think God has given us as human beings is sign posts of beauty and yearning that make us feel the full impact of being human and awaken in us this unquenchable desire for Him. Sometimes we get confused by this thirst and it sends us down a rabbit trail of searching to fill it in things that don't satisfy. I pray that these times for you will be few and far between; they will always end in pain. Instead, I pray when you encounter these sign posts, they cause you to press hard into your Creator, the only one who will satisfy.

In my life, one of the major sign posts has been music. I so clearly remember graduating from high school myself. One of my best friends made our close-knit group four CDs to help us through our first time away from home and each other. I played those songs on repeat for months. They brought me comfort and closeness to God in ways that nothing else could. I remember one of my favorites was Dixie Chick's Wide Open Spaces. It's silly, I know, and it's not a "Christian" song, but for my eighteen year old self, it was a prayer, an anthem, an awakening to a yearning that screamed, "It's yours God, it's all yours. I know the high stakes, have your way!"

Throughout my life I've had a soundtrack playing in the background. Now I dedicate a song to you, lovely ladies, as you learn to navigate these next steps. It's not a Christian song, and yes, it's full on cheesy but it's my prayer for you as you go. When life gets too overwhelming and serious and you just need a moment, crank it up and let yourself dance and sing loudly, knowing that you will make it through. When I hear it, I will think of you, brave girls, and I hope when you hear it, you will remember all those back home that love you. But mostly, I hope it awakens in you a longing that you don't even understand that leads you to the heart of your Heavenly Father who loves you, cherishes you, and empowers you to be all that he created you to be.

Much love to you girls.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Life in the Week After Easter

When it comes to redemption, there is one constant that I've come to depend on.
It will never look the way I imagined it.

I know this from seeing it in the pages of Scripture, reading about it in the stories that stir my heart the most. God turns worlds upside down in the most surprising, unexpected ways.

Divine irony. 

However, when it comes to life before my own eyes, I am not easily satisfied with this. I want redemption on my terms, in the ways I've hoped and imagined. I want it to make sense and be free of uncertainty and void of messes. I don't want wounds to rip open at unexpected times; I don't want process, I want completion.

I'd rather God just swallow up the empty, broken spaces as if they never existed in the first place. But, when Jesus conquered the grave, he kept his scars. The marks of his humanity remained in his resurrected body. The insults, the schemes, the betrayal of friends that lead to the nails in his hands were still there.

I'm in awe of his humanness. The God that stripped himself of all his God-rights wasn't just born into lowliness and died a sinner's death but reigns as one who still bears the marks of his humanity. He is not detached or uncaring to the deepest hurts of this world. He understands. He puts broken pieces back together in ways that honor his artistry as Creator. He redeems; he doesn't erase. Maybe part of redemption is coming to terms with the deepest parts of our humanity, the places only we know and only God can go, and inviting him in to sit for a while and just be without needing to get to the next step.

Life becomes confusing when God offers redemption but we are unable to see it for the gift that it is because it's not necessarily redemption we've been looking for, it's our own way. We want an end, pretty picture without the strain of the middle. We miss the gifts right in front of us because we're looking at them all wrong.

I thank God for the hollow space between his death and resurrection; the cold unknown is a place that will always be familiar until this world is fully redeemed. More so, I thank God for the scars that remained after he raised Jesus from the grave, for a God that identifies with the pain of his creation as both God and man.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bioethics + Life = All Kinds of Rabbit Trails

In Cambodia, I remember listening to the stories of mothers and grandmothers who had started small businesses to provide for their families. 

Where were the men?

At the bar, drinking the money away.

This year alone, I've seen several families fall apart. Who is left to put back the broken pieces? Nine times out of ten, it's mom. They are women with the resilience of warriors; they have no choice. 

Saying this does not imply that men are bad. It does not make me a man-hater or mean that I think men are the enemy. They so are not. Many are humble, strong servants and advocates who love, respect, and honor all people. Women can leave paths of destruction and wreck lives in the same way as men. As it turns out, we're all human. Even so, when we look at our world as a whole, the majority of inequality still falls on the backs of women. It's how it is, and I'm thankful for both men and women who are actively working on behalf of all people towards restoration.

Soon after having Emma, I wrote the following blog, with a couple modifications, about motherhood. I thought of it today as I was thinking through a bioethics assignment I'm working on. While I'm still staunchly pro-life, I wonder how we can do better support all the mothers and potential mothers out there who see no better option than abortion? I think of a former student, who journaled about how she had never wanted an abortion but whose parents and boyfriend pressured her into getting one. The majority of women cite a lack of support or inability to carry on other responsibilities as reasons to have abortions. How can we have an active role in reducing the number of abortions? I believe that in advocating for the unborn, we are also advocating for the dignity of those that carry them. 

I think mothers are the strongest creatures on earth (Of course, I say this six months after becoming one myself). While making a baby takes two people, the responsibility of protecting and nourishing that baby falls on the woman. We do a job that no man, literally, could ever do. While women have so many options that those that came before us did not have, nothing comes easy for a woman. It is still a man’s world and breaking through the glass ceiling is still an unlikely task. The fact that our bodies are able to reproduce is one of the obstacles of making it in a man’s world.

This is the beautiful burden of womanhood.

Some face this fact by choice, others by surprise, while others by force. There is a certain power and freedom that men have from never having to face this. As women we have worked so hard for equality and rightly so- equal wages, opportunity, etc. However, the greatest thing that separates us from men is our ability to reproduce. This is also the most beautiful, amazing thing about being a woman.

We give life.

The artistic beauty of a child being knit together inside a woman’s body is so incredible. In secret places where only we can feel the acrobats of this little one, we protect and nourish until he or she can survive apart from us. 

Through women, all men find their beginning. 

Yes, we have rights. We've worked very, very hard for our rights. But, as women, isn't it the ultimate show of strength to set these rights aside? Doesn't humanity always shine brightest when we choose sacrifice? I think most people would agree it’s best to choose love over indifference, optimism over cynicism, giving over taking, creativity over status quo. At times we are asked to set our rights aside for the sake of another, to sacrifice our bodies (and I have the stretch marks to prove it!) which a man would never have to do, but it is the ultimate display of strength and dignity. The kind that comes with celebration and "Eschet Chayils!" 

How can we ensure, even in unwanted pregnancy, that this is every woman's experience with giving birth? 

Monday, March 18, 2013

For My Jax (Thoughts on Being a Man)

Dear Jax,

There are times when I write your sister letters when I think of things that are so important for her to know but she is not ready to hear. Most of these thoughts come from the struggles I know she will encounter from being a girl. It's more difficult for me to do this with you. As a woman, I am by no means an authority on what it means to be a man. Thankfully, you have a good daddy that will model to you what manhood is. All I can do is offer my perspective as a woman, from what I see in our world, and give you the wisdom of a mom who wants nothing but the best for her son.

It's been one of those weeks, Jaxie-boy. While you're out playing and jumping and making some of the silliest faces I've ever seen, the world is turning in all kinds of ways that I wish I could forever block you from. I wish you would never have to experience the ugly things in life. While the world that you were born into is full of so much joy and beauty, I also want you to be prepared for some of those nasty little things that will sneak up on you and have the potential to destroy without you even realizing it's happening.

Right now, you have a favorite song. Every time we get into the car you ask me to play it. While it's been months and so far past the point of getting old, I still play it on your request. I love that it's your favorite song, and I love listening to your sweet, little voice as you sing along and fist pump in the back seat.

"Won't you stand up, stand up, stand up?
Won't you stand up, you girls and boys?
Won't you stand up, stand up, stand up?
Won't you stand up and use your voice?"

It's been our anthem, these last several months, Jackson, and I hope you never forget. You see, you will get so many messages before you about what it means to be a man. This scares me, as I know many of these messages will be so distorted.

I want you to know how to treat a woman, through the eyes of a woman. And while this will apply to future dating relationships and marriage, all I want to focus on right now is how you interact with the opposite sex. While marriage will be the single most important relationship in your life, over half the population is female. As your mom, it is so important to me that you grow up as a man who knows how to treat people in general, and while I think men and women have way more similarities than we realize, there are some things that you will need to know.

You see, honey, our culture has both sexualized and romanticized life in ways that make it very difficult to see the opposite sex as a beautiful gift that we can learn from, create with, and experience life alongside. Good things have been perverted. We're told that girls want love. We see the twisted nature of this in girls that will do anything to experience love, to capture the male gaze and keep it. She'll do things that strip her of her God-given dignity in order to make a man love her. And Jax, we see the twisted way this plays out for a man as he will do anything to make himself feel respected and powerful, which means taking everyone around him down so he can be built up. While our flesh may live under this curse, we are not bound by it, as the Spirit of the Living God lives in us, enabling us to live in the newness of His resurrection life. A new way, my dear, as He restores all things under him, even the battle of the sexes.

All creation longs for this renewal, my dear. The older you get, the more you will sense the longings around you for relationships that are life-giving and restorative. But, you will also feel the pull of wanting to belong, of desiring to be accepted, and doing whatever it takes to get it. I pray that you look for acceptance and affirmation in the right places. 

This past week I've heard far too many horrible stories about what men, boys even, are capable of doing that destroy women because they have absolutely no respect for them as fellow human beings. And it hurts my heart, as it always does, in a way that is unique to me because of the fact that I am a woman. And I am a mother. Maybe someday these stories will hurt your heart in a unique way as well. I hope as you grow, you remember to stand up for those around you. I hope that you are a man full of compassion, moved to act in behalf of others. I hope that you grow to become a man that looks at women and sees them as your equal. While there is so much mystery and strangeness in learning what it means to love and respect people, I hope that you fight hard to understand.

Jaxie, I challenge you to develop relationships of mutual respect with the opposite sex. I challenge you to look girls in the eye and hold their gaze. As beautiful as a woman's body is, you must know that she is more than her body. Never, ever call a girl a slut or a whore. I don't care who she is or what she's done. If all your friends are saying this about a girl, you stand up for her. Always. Women are not objects. In the same way men are, women are fully stamped with the image of God- think of that Jax, we bear the image of God! What an amazing, beautiful thing. No matter what it seems as you look at billboards, TV, the Internet or anywhere else, know that women have immense God-given value and worth. They are poets and artists, crafters and cultivators, scientists and teachers, physicians and pastors, warriors and princesses; they are the crown of all creation and worthy of your respect, my dear. Don't forget that, my love. You will be a leader but that looks a lot more like a servant than anything else. Your job is to build people up, never to tear down. Respect is important, but whose eyes you are respected in is of greatest value.  

My prayer for you, Jackson, is that you grow with a strength that is not of this world. 

"Won't you stand up, stand up, stand up?
Won't you stand up, you girls and boys?
Won't you stand up, stand up, stand up?
Won't you stand up and use your voice?"

I cannot wait to see the man you will become. I'm so proud to be your mommy.

Love you always and so much,
Mommy