Compassion is a currency that must be cashed.

I’d prefer something a little more explainable.

You know, a story that aligns just right, it makes complete sense to just about every listener, and one would respond simply, “Well, that certainly sounds reasonable.”

Reasonable. Explainable. Correct.

None of those words really describe the path of my life, much less this Ride for Hope I’m doing in a week in East Africa.

You see, I’d prefer to tell you a story about how it all came together in a really clean, factual manner. And most of all, that I wouldn’t have to share my vulnerability.

The compassion. The joy. The heart break. The love.

Those words, the feelings? Ah, so very un-reason-able.

It may sound odd now looking back, but I felt so exposed about it all, I really didn’t want to talk about it. But I mean, c’mon, how can one hide the fact that you’re going to be biking 600 miles around Lake Victoria in East Africa and you have to raise $12,000 in the process?

Seems like at some point the truth had to come out.

The truth? The why?

There was a riot in my heart.

And I gave in. I let myself feel. And feel it all.

A story from Christ’s Hope International

David from Christ’s Hope was sharing at a local networking event about the work being done to support orphans affected by AIDS in sub-Sahara Africa. To be clear, not the first time I’ve heard of this kind of courageous non-profit work. But he leaned in deeper and shared a moving story that had happened recently through one of the CarePoint centers.

They needed to find a home for a young girl that had lost both of her parents. In their model, they don’t place them in orphanages, but instead put the children in relatives’ homes to support them from there.

Problem was, the only living relative of this girl was a prostitute.

A prostitute.

A word I’m familiar with. A people that I know. A term that could better be described as, “one who is used up sexually due to her need and loss.”

Her power stripped away, there is only the bait of money that keeps her in the business. There’s no consent; only a survival bribe.

But it never truly pays off. Sure, bills may be paid, but the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual debt is carved deeper and deeper into her soul.

This was not who she was made to be.

Then to add more burden, she now has a child under her roof. Not only may this demand significant extra energy and resources, but the girl herself is now extra vulnerable to the sex industry due to proximity. A potential for disaster.

Can I explain to you how much hope is not present in this situation? When you are a prostitute, that is your life, and the way out seems nearly impossible. We see it all the time at New Name. Which is why we don’t measure results, but instead focus on love. The opposition is real, and the way is hard.

Which is why the next part of the story gripped my heart.

This little girl began attending the CarePoint Center through the non-profit. There she found care for her body, mind, and soul. She grew and developed, and even begin taking her child-like faith with her into all parts of her life.

Including at home. And including into the thoughts and heart of her aunt.

Because when you find peace and joy and love, you can’t hide it. It just overflows.

Over time, day by day, word by word, this aunt heard the story of Jesus and the power of the cross from the lips of child. And there was hope — finally, hope — in that.

Hope that Someone accepted her, saw her, loved her, embraced her.

And he loves her because he loves her because he loves her.

When you live a life of constant misuse, it’s hard to believe that someone would actually love you without you doing anything to for it. It’s free, so very free. So unbelievable. It simply must be miraculous.

This is the part of the story that I want to see in detail someday. The moment that Jesus completely breaks her chains that have bound her to prostitution and set her free. It instantly brought to mind the song Alabaster Box, when CeCe Winans sings about Mary, a former prostitute, breaking her whole life and alabastor box at the feet of Jesus, and testifying to others,

“You weren’t there the night he found me, you did not feel what I felt when he wrapped his loving arms around me. You don’t know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box.”

It was that moment in the story I felt all the emotions at once.

A riot in the soul.

Tears came down my eyes without thought, the weight and miracle of it all was so heavy. We pray for years for some of our women to break out of the life. And now look how God used the testimonial of a little orphaned girl.

Though in reality, she is not little, and not orphaned. She is a daughter of the most high King! And in that place is power, unimaginable power.

That moment of intense inner feeling was immediately followed by, “And we are organizing the Ride for Hope around Lake Victoria in June of 2017. If there are any avid bicyclists out there, we invite you to join!”

At that moment Brian, who was sitting next to me, gives me a knowing look and says, “You doing that?” He knew I was training for the Chicago Triathlon. I immediately retorted, “I am not an avid bicyclist!”

And in that moment I knew I would be joining the team.

(*insert comment, “Well that escalated quickly!”*)

I didn’t realize it would be 600 miles. And I also didn’t totally register the reality I had to raise $12,000.

I just knew that I leaned into feeling my heart, and then did something about it.

And that makes me feel vulnerable. That I can’t really give a better explanation other than, “I cried. And felt so hard it hurt.”

Thank God for Justin Dillon and his recent appearance on the Chasing Justice podcast. Because he puts words to what I’ve wanted to say, but have never been able to describe when I’m trying to process through those intense heart riots I get every once in a while:

This feeling, while it’s not accomplishing something in the world, is accomplishing something in me. But this feeling is also a currency, and yet I don’t know where to spend it. It’s crazy when we have these intense feelings to change the world and we don’t know where to spend that currency. If we don’t spend it on something, that’s when it starts to create a debt in our soul. It creates a callousness and cynicism. Because we were made to fight injustice. That feeling came from the infinite and touched by our finite.

Yes. Yes it’s all true. The more I internalize the deepest feelings I experience, the more callous I become. I’ve felt that tension, because it’s also pretty uncomfortable to act out on those desires. But it sure does give me more joy.

Justin continues on to talk about our culture of “giving back.”

Giving back is saying, “I’m good. I’ve got enough. I’m going to give a little bit back.” But I don’t like what it’s saying about us. It’s void of meaning. Really what the world needs is not giving back, but giving in. It’s realizing, “There’s something in me greater than what’s against others.”

Giving in. It’s not pushing away the feelings. It’s giving in to them. And being ok with what it may cause you do to.

Because love makes you do crazy things. And often they don’t have logical explanations outside of, “I just really cared.”

But that, my friends, is the most logical, and most fulfilling, way to live life.

Crazy is normal to the wholehearted person.

Would you consider supporting me on for the Ride for Hope?

We are raising funds through the end of June 2017. Every little bit helps!

Visiting brothels in India

August 4, 2016

At 1:00am this morning I finally landed in Mumbai. And so the journey begins.

That was a good 8 months ago. I’m not exactly sure why I didn’t write a blog post giving a detailed account of my trip to India soon after I returned.

Perhaps some information is too heavy, some sights too indescribable — and not in a Grand Canyon kind of “indescribable” where you are overcome with awe and wonder. More so the loss of words to define things that are preciously and grippingly sober.

There are many blog posts telling of the plight of the poor and marginalized. Much social work can have a similar story, and often told from the perspective of the powerful ones. It may be “good power,” but it’s still weighty. Maybe sounding something like this:

There are people in the world who are mistreated (by my standards) and live in unfortunate states (by my standards) and we must change their story (to look more like mine) and I get to tell their story (from my perspective).

When interacting with those who survive under the crushing arm of injustice from evil power forces, it’s easy to saunter into that situation, and proclaim, “A new sheriff has arrived in town!” Thus kicking out the evil power who’s been forcing the poor to do what they want and enforcing a “just” process that requires new rules to be followed.

Often the only thing in common in these 2 scenarios is the fact that the poor always have choices made for them. They are simply the words and not actually the writers in their own story.

So thus my hesitation in relaying experiences and being the storyteller. These are real humans and they have incredible dignity.

Yes, injustices must have light shown on it. As partners in humanity we have the privilege of using our privileges to stand in the gap and be the bridge. Yet always keeping in mind the will and autonomy of the people we meet, allowing them to be apart of the process and representing them truthfully, humanly.

And there you have my light-hearted introduction!

Most of what I’m writing below I’m pulling from my journal during the trip, so you can be sure it will read like that. Any local names have been changed to protect identities.

Mumbai, India

Often I feel anxious and troubled, that the bad people are getting away with things, that if I love I will be mistreated. But God uses the panic in our lives to lead us up to the breakthrough. He makes the way.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. He bends down to listen.” Psalm 116

I thought about this passage when I was praying for the women we would be meeting. He bends down to listen— he really does. He hears the cries and the woes of the women we meet. He knows their pain, even the pain they won’t acknowledge. He wants to set them free. This is my God. If I can pray his mercy and care over them, I must accept it as well over myself.

Entrance into India

The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel at 3:00am was interesting. I was the last of the team to arrive and had to find my way to the hotel on my own. My Hindi-speaking taxi driver didn’t know where the hotel was, so he asked a group of taxi drivers on the side of the street. Then he asked another group. And then the guys at the gate. At this point I thought I would never make it there. I finally pulled it up on Google maps and found that it wasn’t too far away— just a mile. So we puttered away in the tiny car that my legs didn’t really fit in, and was thankful for the cool post-rain breeze that gave relief to the humidity.

The next morning after breakfast, we sat in the lobby and waiting for Sela to come. She’s faithfully led the brothel outreach for over 20 years in a city several hours from Mumbai. I was pining to meet her. When she showed up, I wasn’t expecting someone so small! But you could feel her care and love right away. So welcoming and inviting. I knew she could be friends with anyone in a moment.

Mumbai was quite the interesting place, but at first I was so distracted by the crazy driving, close calls, bikes, motorcycles, people … it was chaos! But our driver evaded them all. That combined with driving on the opposite side of the street was some cause for stress at times.

Then I started looking at the city around me. So much dingy housing, shacks, trash, dirt, and just overall poverty. And it wasn’t just a section. It kept going and going. At first it was a shocking sight, but then I tried hard to imagine the life of these people and that this is their life and they have plenty of dignity. They work and have families and try to provide for them. Their housing is different from mine, but it doesn’t mean they need fixing.

I think it’s important to accept the difference up front so that you can enter any home and feel welcome, because it’s humans that make you feel welcome, not just a space.

We finally arrived at our hotel after about 3 hours of driving through the mountains. Many things to take in during the ride. Children peeing on the streets, trash and junk everywhere, a woman sitting on top of tiny food cart, the red third eye many people had, the colorful clothing the women wore, groups of people sitting together for lunch outside under shade, children coming home from school in their uniforms that looked very British-like, the mass amounts of people. So much to take in and observe.

My first brothel walk

Yesterday was riveting. Yet comforting as well. I have to keep reminding myself that we walked into brothels and that is not normal. Yet it seemed so normal. I always found myself at peace. Maybe that’s kingdom stuff. Maybe this is part of the progression for me. It began with drug camps 5 years ago, then drug aftercare homes, then homeless camps, then domestic violence victims, then strip clubs, then street prostitution, then massage parlors.  I guess going into a brothel wasn’t such a huge jump. And what I saw there was similar in many ways to what I’ve seen everywhere else: women that desperately need to be loved. People trapped in the grip of sin and exploitation. This is another place where the love of the Father gets to ride in and take over.

Sela led us through the large brothel district, armed with candy, hair accessories and beanie babies. The first group of ladies were on the side of the alley, three younger women that Nora later described as having such searing  pain in their eyes that it haunted her. We gave them hair clips and asked their names and told them how beautiful they were. When we came by later a man was talking to them, another customer.

We moved on to 2 women sitting against a wall. We said hello and they smiled. The one had such a pretty smile and was so tiny. We kept moving to a group of 4-5 women under the covering of the building. Across the street was a old brothel that had recently collapsed. Rubble was everywhere. These ladies were a bit older and after giving them chocolates we sat down and talked.

First asking names, then just listening, lots of picture taking. They loved to see themselves in the pictures. Then Sela talked with them and we sang Jesus Loves Me. That is when tears came to my eyes. Jesus loves them, no matter what. And the same is for me. We then laid hands on them and prayed, a together moment. So sweet. Afterwards the picture taking continued — they were so happy and one lady even started singing and dancing. We knew the fruit of Sela’s efforts over many years brought us to this point.

We walked around the corner into another brothel, this time going inside and sitting in the front room. The women gestured to us to sit on the seats and they sat on the floor on cardboard. They were so hospitable and even offered us tea. We gave the little boy there one of the beanie babies. Then we talked and Sela interpreted. They asked our names, what we do for a living, remarking on our features. One women sat on the other side and was a bit younger and looked very sad. There were about 6-7 women all together. Then eventually we sang again and went around and we all prayed. Then Sela prayed and also sang. She has such a beautiful voice. I was reminded again that I am here in another culture sitting accepted with prostitutes. Dirt never stopped Calvary blood. Later Sela told us that there were younger girls inside that we not allowed to come out. Many never leave their rooms and haven’t seen the light of day in years.

After lunch she took me and Katie to go into another large brothel house. We first stopped and talked with 2 women at the bottom. One was young and pregnant and she smiled so deeply at us. There was something in her eyes. Like a light and a hope and a plea for love and acceptance. She for some reason was so excited to see us but of course couldn’t relay that to us in English. We talked and communicated with hands. We found out she had 1 child and so we gave her a beanie baby. Then we prayed for both of them and saw tears in their eyes.

We moved on up the stairs. We walked up a total of 4 flights of stairs and saw room after room full  of women. On the first floor was much younger women who had a beautiful little girl. They weren’t open to prayer but they were still welcoming.

Then we moved up and I kept looking around at the little living rooms and bedrooms that had women after women. A true brothel house. We stopped into one room where a woman had been lying on the bed. Sela talked with her while we interacted with the little 6 year old boy who was taking our pictures. We prayed over her and then walked down the hall where there were 4 women in a kitchen watching TV. After talking briefly, Sela had us pray over them for healing. So I bent down and touched their knees and prayed as well. I want to see God’s miracles in body and soul. That he would heal their body and that they would thank him and it would lead them to Jesus who is the ultimate healer. Several of the women eyes were full of tears and we told them all God bless you and left.

While walking downstairs, it was obvious Sela knew many of the people. She would say ‘hi’ and the women would wave at us. We passed at least 4 men on our way down the stairs. It was hard to comprehend the realities they live under, that they can serve anywhere from 20-40 men a day.

The brothel children

One of my most poignant memories was the day we visited the brothel children daycare. Sela told us that when she first tried to connect with this Hindu-led daycare center, she was roughly pushed away. They hated her and the religion she represented.

But then, after months and years of persistence, she slowly gained their respect. They came to trust and love her. And invited her into the daycare to minister to the children. Soon, they started sending children to Sela’s salon in the brothel district to provide the children with clothing, toys, and prayer. It was an unlikely relationship, but a real one at that.

We walked up a staircase inside of what seemed a large empty building. At the top we were ushered into an area that had several rooms. We could hear children singing around the corner.

Sela brought us into an office where we met with one of the women in leadership. She brought in another women, a powerful Hindu lawyer, who apparently used to hate Sela, but eventually grew to respect her and now supports her work. She gave us a few guidelines and then brought us into the lesson room.

We sat down on benches in front of what had to be 30 children — all were less than 5 years old, some as young as even 1. They were so beautiful. This one girl in front of me to the right drew me in. Big brown eyes, the cutest dress, and full of baby-girl sweetness. She was probably 3 years old.

The teachers gave them some instructions, and then they started to sing with much gusto. Some of the songs we recognized the tunes — like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star — and others Indian children songs. It was a private performance for us!

Then we had a chance to sing for them. We stuck with a song we had sang several times before, a classic, Jesus Loves Me.

This I know. For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong. 

They are weak,

But he is strong.

My voice cut off at “Little ones” because of the weight of those words.

Of the most vulnerable little ones in the world, these are the ones.

And God sees them. They belong to him. They are loved.

But I can’t make it work in my mind. They live in brothels, often hiding under their mother’s bed during service to a customer. This life they are growing up in will probably be what they are enslaved in as well?

God, where is the Jesus Loves Them at this point? Do you? Where are you? Can you?

So many emotions. Proud of their performance. Inspired by their resilience. Gripped by their vulnerability. Grieved by the abuses they may suffer outside of this safe place.

Wanting to look away, but not able to.

This is why it’s hard to write about these stories. There’s not a happy ending. There’s not an easy solution. There’s no conclusion besides this:

“And then we left.”

Modern Day Hero

I met a modern day hero and champion while in India. Sela, an incredible woman of pure gold.

I wanted to sit and listen for hours on end about her perspectives and stories and rescues and struggle and battle. Stories of daring rescues and police hunts on their home door step; girls being locked in rooms for years on end, even up to 10 years in a case she knew about; a women being healed of her illness due to Sela’s prayer; a brothel madame violently resisting Sela, and then after 5 years of prayer she amazingly opened up to a relationship and let Sela in to meet the other women; a young joyful 12 year old girl who was one day sold by her mother to a foreigner for sex one night; the young girl who pleaded to Sela that she was ready to try to escape the brothel, but since the board at that time was dysfunctional, they wouldn’t release funds for aid and Sela found out the next week the girl had hung herself; when one women was pregnant and tried to abort her baby, and the only way should wouldn’t do it is if Sela would adopt the baby. Sela ended up adopted what ended up being twin baby boys.

The more I got to know Sela, the more I realized that as we walked through the red light district, we were literally walking in the shadow of her miracle, the fruit of her harvest. It was one of my greatest honors so far in my life.

Where is the hope?

I’ve been processing for a long time. Or perhaps avoiding the process.

It’s hard to not have answers. It’s hard to deal with your own humanity. It’s hard to take a good, long look at darkness.

Because sometimes you’re afraid that what you find is that things are a lot more complex, a lot more worse, and a lot more hopeless that you thought.

I’ve been thinking…

I think that’s about where we need to arrive. To let ourselves be overcome because it’s that point where we find the limits of our own selves.

The natural runs out.

The supernatural can rush in.

I think that’s why it’s good for me to be in this space. The “impossible” space. Where I can’t be the savior or the hope of the world. Because if it were possible, I’m pretty sure I’d believe that I could solve all the world’s problems in a day. Really, I’m that self-sustainable.

But that’s not life. And it’s not reality.

Reality is there’s so much space of uncertainty, of questions that have no answers, of searching for what you may never really find.

And that’s ok.

Being fully aware of my limited scope reminds of the unlimited power of the One who can save the world, who has saved the world, and who is on the move to make all things new.

It’s hard to be the one that steps into darkness and then leaves, “getting” to be the person who talks about it and not stick around to create the frontline solution.

It’s hard to be the reader, to only hear and listen to devastation of lives that are so far removed from our own reality, being a “sharer” instead of practical hand.

But, we really do need all of us. All the gifts. All the perspectives.

Being present with uncomfortable problems is a mature thing to do. It says, “I’m sticking with this until we find breakthrough. I’m not going to quit. I’m not going anywhere.”

So you and I don’t have to be in India to be present. That’s the beauty of prayer. That’s the beauty of the Church. We’re in it together. We can talk, and share, and present, and think, and pray. And it really is all valuable.

Especially that prayer piece.

Prayer means we get to be present in sorrow — we can lament and hurt with those who labor under the grief of injustice as if we were right next to them in person.

Prayer means we get to be present in solutions — we can create and hope in prayer for something or someone to be that answer, even if we never get to do it ourselves.

Social justice need never be selfish. Just because we can’t travel or live in front of issues doesn’t mean we don’t get to be involved. Because since when was it all about us?

It’s hard to post an Instagram photo about the years of prayer for the brothel children to be set on a path of freedom and hope. But those 350 followers will sure see that white face with the brown ones in a visible sign of “good-doing.”

Yeah, on a scale of 1-to-who-cares, it’s off the charts.

So my takeaway from the India trip?

Let’s love from afar, and pray like someone’s life depends on it.

Because it really does.

Is it possible to be both single and happy? From yours truly, this Valentine’s Day.

Is it possible to be both single and happy?

It’s an intriguing question, really.

This is not ever really a direct question anyone says towards me, but sometimes it’s implied: how can you be single and happy at the same time? Not only do I feel that implication from the world around me at literally every corner, but I also at times come face to face with the question myself.

Is singleness and happiness mutually exclusive?

And just to heighten the intensity, let’s ask that on Valentine’s Day. On the cultural celebratory day of love, when you don’t have a lover, is it possible to be happy?

Let’s explore this.

This has been a top-of-mind topic since it’s come up in three separate conversations in the last 2 weeks. And those conversations have been specifically with women who feel that desire to be with someone, to be married, but also feel like, “Am I just waiting around to start living my life?”

It comes from a tension, an insecurity about committing to a specific path or personal values when knowing that means possibly saying no to a relationship, to marriage.

For females, this is an especially difficult conundrum. In our world, especially the Christian culture, there’s always an expectation, whether quietly implied or explicitly exhorted, to find our purpose and mission through a man and through marriage. Here’s the implication:

If you’re going to mean something to this world, it’s going to come through another human being.

Though that’s a duo-gender message, for females this is often paired with the concept of submission. To submit.

And it is until we do this flawlessly, submit our will and purpose through another human being, then we will find true happiness and meaning.

Say that out loud. Sometimes logically and verbally expressing that belief brings us to a stark realization:

That conclusion is not reflective of who God is and how God made us.

First of all, in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall and any sin, God gave a job before he gave marriage. God gave purpose in an intimately personal way before giving a path to do that alongside another person.

This means that each of us is made individually unique before God — which means we each are special, set apart, called, and meaningful. Though we need community and relationships to thrive, we only need God individually to have meaning. To tie a human being to our core purpose means to resign ourselves to co-dependency, that in order to have meaning, I must be attached to you.

So, from the beginning, we are missioned and meaning-full. When God looks at you, He sees a full person that has a unique name.


Second, let’s look at the word that trips us all up: submission. If one day I’m supposed to release my will and life to another person, then why would I start my own knowing I’d have to give that up? Would my primary value as a wife be my ability to serve men? And if I’m supposed to only find it through a husband, then why would I think I’d ever have something special to offer the world? And if submission only applied to marriage, then are singles not supposed to submit to anything?

I love what Lisa Bevere* said about this topic: “I heard a definition of submission that framed and aligned it with God’s plan for all Christians, not just couples. Consider this: the prefix sub means “under,” and mission is an assignment. Put them together, and we can draw a conclusion that submission means “under the same assignment or mission.”

This gives so much more intentionality and thought behind not just personal mission, but also marriage. Instead of fearfully thinking, “In order to be married, I have to loss my mission,” instead we can think, “When I choose a marriage partner, it’s because we are under the same mission together.”

Why would God ask you to submit to God ultimately, to be sent on His mission in the world, and then nullify that unique mission because you are now married?

God’s mission and call is always greater than man’s, no matter who that person is.

Which is why I think, as single women, we can freely and fearlessly move into outrageous acts of mission because that doesn’t deter God’s path or purpose for us. It will actually move us closer to the best outpouring of it.

What does this have to do with happiness?

Actually, I don’t think this has anything to do with happiness. Which is the point of this article.

I’ll use my own story as an example because I’ve always wrestled with that question: Am I happy?

Though I love being happy and can easily pinpoint those moments of extreme highs in my life (picture me prancing carelessly through a wheat field throwing flowers into the wind), I realized pretty early on that that picture of “happiness” never really motivated me. For such a long time I was always obsessed with one thing: purpose.

I mean, check out this blog title. And no, Vita By Design is not some sort of customized vitamin supplement. Vita means “life.” And By Design means, “on purpose.”

One life, on purpose.

I have a bit of an odd history, per se, with all the moves and experiences in my life. There were many crisis moments of change and I wasn’t satisfied with trite answers about silver linings. I wanted to know “why?” What was the purpose?

It began as a practice in youth and has continued through today. And I can’t say it’s been easy. Actually, a better word would be messy.

And throughout the time of trying so hard to find purpose in my life, I had to live with the question of singleness in the back of my mind. Am I resigning to singleness in order to find purpose?

From my perspective, it’s most likely only been down the road of singleness that I have found personal meaning in this world through God. I’ve had to let go of figuring out who I am in light of another person or of the expectations others perceive of me. I’ve sat down over long spaces of time and let God really show me who I am. Honestly, I was always terrified of that person because it’s much too abnormal. It took being threatened, mocked, and on the verge of losing everything before I was willing to stand up for myself and say, “No, I’m a person with worth who has a gifting in a specific way.”

You remembering that part about messy? You don’t even know the half. It’s been in this dirt of bitterness, shame and oppression (both outwardly and inwardly) that all seeds of goodness have been planted. And the harvest is the obvious things. That’s what you get to see — accomplishment, mercy, kind actions, goodness, justice for humanity. But you weren’t there when it was planted, all the bitterness, pain, self-shaming, hate for my life and my heart, loss of belief in any of the goodness or reality of God. No one else was there to save me from that.

Besides God.

Sometimes I wonder if we, as single women (or men I suppose), never get to taste the true God because we’re always looking for someone else to be our Savior. To tell us what to do when confused, to save us from despair when all is lost, to provide for us when we’re flat broke, to comfort us when we’re lost and afraid.

I remember at one specific epic low point in my life, after I had lost all the work I had and a job offer, I thought for the first time in my life, “Maybe this is why girls get married? So that when these things happen she can rely on someone else to provide for her?” It was a bitter moment, because I knew I could no longer provide for myself, financially or emotionally.

But that’s exactly when I found God as my true Husband. He showed up and he saved the day. I mean, there was a journey involved that was extremely hard. I remember not having money to buy food that day and realizing, “Well, looks like I’m fasting and praying this week!” And judging by where my life is today 2 1/2 years later, I would say it work 😉

Now here’s the hardest part of all of us, and I know that because I’ve fought it continually: if I step out and into a defined mission that I believe is tailored for me, then that means I won’t ever get married, because guys are only looking for girls that fit into their own life trajectory.

Now, once we say it out loud, it sounds a bit silly. But it’s TOTALLY real when dwelling on it, right?? And it does actually makes sense to a degree. When I train businesses on marketing, we intentionally lead them to define a target market, and that makes them really uncomfortable, because then that might be saying no to some people. But that’s what we want. We want some people to see their business and think, “Yes that’s for me!” and others to think, “Nope, that’s not for me at all.”

Choosing to live and stand for your beliefs and personal passions is going to immediately polarize some crowds. And I hate that feeling. But it’s true. And it’s actually a good thing that certain people will be attracted to you more than others due to your life choices.

And if anyone gets this, believe me, it’s me. I have been so torn and uncomfortable with my calling. Words like, “Inadequate, unprepared, naive, un-understanding, and pointless” are my constant companion when standing in the gap for those who have been sexually exploited and trafficked. I’ve come so close to giving up on this in the past because I’ve felt so incapable and unworthy.

On top of that, leaning into this mission means I’m committed to certain counter-culture things: doing outreach at strip clubs and other places of adult entertainment, believing in abstinence and then a monogamous life through marriage, exposing the harms of pornography, advocating for healing in our communities due to the brokenness through the sexualization of women. I really did believe and fear that moving into this calling would render me single forever because I couldn’t imagine men being vulnerable enough to partner with my mission from God. I just never saw too many examples of that.

This is also why I died a thousand times in my heart and soul when the mic taps were released of Trump’s verbal description of how he thinks about and uses women. It wasn’t simply that he did that (I see that everyday in the fight against sexual exploitation). It was the visceral defense of that action from not just the general community, but from Christians — men and women.

“That’s just how men are,” and “It’s standard locker room talk,” and “Boys will be boys,” and “Why should we have standards when that’s the way the culture is anyway?”

Watching this play out choked me with alone-ness and fear of the future of all women. That if we don’t submit to this belief that we are naive and unbelievable.

But in short answer to that fear, it’s not true. Men are not supposed to talk like that. Humans are not supposed to use each other. We should have standards for how we think about, treat, and talk to women and men. Period.

Which one will you choose?

As you can imagine, it can be an internal storm, and I don’t think I’m exempt or unusual. We live this — a fear that we’ll have to choose, man or mission.

At the end of the day, I believe each of us, married or single, have to look back and assess, “Did I live up to my God-given gifts today?”

Does it mean it’s a paid position, or a social cause, or a title? I don’t think so. At my core, I believe my life calling is Mercy. Which isn’t super popular because it doesn’t jive well with common sense. But despite what others may think or interpret it as, that is what gives me meaning each day and I have only God to answer for how well I lived that out.

Am I happy?

Finally we get here. Am I a happy and single girl on Valentine’s Day?

Honestly, I can’t say I am. Once I start asking myself “Am I happy?” I start remembering all the pain that has stolen good, happy moments in my life that isn’t necessarily even related to relationships. The wounds start throbbing again and I easily make a case for all the reasons I’m not fulfilled.


But here’s the thing: I don’t think we were made to be happy. Happy implies a lack of strains and cares. It’s a false reality we think we can obtain by building walls around ourselves and staying as safe as we possibly can, the thought that only hurt-less people are truly happy people.

I look back at my life and some of my “highest” moments were moments when I was living purely who I am and who I was made to be. It was those Mercy-filled moments when God’s purpose and my gifts collided. It hasn’t always been a happy life, per se. But it sure has been meaningful.

So, is this single girl happy on Valentine’s Day? I guess not. But I sure do have meaning.

And, you know what?

I guess that’s what makes me so happy.

I’ll end with a selection from Ron Rolheiser which has additionally inspired me recently in light of conversations with friends about singleness. I hope you lean into desiring a meaningful life today, not necessarily a happy one. I think that comes after the meaningful part.

Am I happy? Is my life a happy one? Am I happy inside my marriage? Am I happy with my family? Am I happy in my job? Am I happy with my church? Am I happy inside my own skin?

Are these good questions to ask ourselves? No. They’re questions with which to torture ourselves. When we face our lives honestly this kind of question about happiness is more likely to bring tears to our eyes than solace to our souls because, no matter how well our lives are going, none of us live perfectly fulfilled lives. Always there are unfulfilled dreams. Always there are areas of frustration. Always there are tensions. Always there are deeper hungers that are being stifled

The question should not be: Am I happy? Rather the questions should be: Is there meaning in my life? Is there meaning in my marriage? Is there meaning in my family? Is there meaning in my job? Is there meaning inside my church?

We need to ask the deep questions about our lives in terms of meaning rather than in terms of happiness because, for the most part, we have a false, over-idealized, and unrealistic concept of happiness.

We tend to equate happiness with two things, pleasure and lack of tension. Hence we fantasize that for us to be happy we would need to be in a situation within which we would be free of all the tensions that normally flood into our lives.

But that isn’t what constitutes happiness. Meaning is what constitutes happiness and meaning isn’t contingent upon pain and tension being absent from our lives:  Imagine if someone had come up to Jesus as he was dying on the cross and asked him the question: Are you happy up there? His answer, I am sure, would have been unequivocal: “No!” However, the perspective is quite different if, while on the cross, Jesus would have been asked this question: “Is there meaning in what you are doing up there?”

There can be deep meaning in something even if there isn’t happiness in the way we superficially conceive of it.

*quote from Lisa Bevere’s book, Lioness Arising.

Let’s talk about Refugees


My dear friends.

How can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

My brothers, my sisters.

Don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith.

How does this plays out in our lives?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you say to the rich person, “Sit here, sir, this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? Doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, my dear friends.

Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?

But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens!


Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and who use the courts to rob you blind? Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ?   Aren’t they the ones who scorn your name,—“Christian”?

What if you twist the Golden Rule?

You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it.

If you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others.

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.

Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.


We can’t claim the Faith without exhibiting generosity.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?

For instance, you come upon a person dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit! I’ll pray for you!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you?

Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful?

Yeah, that’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands? Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.

It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.”

Rahab the prostitute is another example. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God?

See, the very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse.

Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a dead corpse.

~Excerpt from chapter 2 of the Book of James, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. Translations NLT and MSG

Casting our votes: what we’re willing to fight over

Donald Trump is an incompetent liar.

Hillary is a shady crook.

Human trafficking is the greatest evil of our time. 


I’ve been analyzing a data set. Granted, it’s my own and from the results of my own posts and writings, so not a wide array of information. Nevertheless, I am aware of when I write a blog or post articles on my social media which ones get the most traffic and interest.

It’s become clear to me that comments, likes, and clicks are like votes. Each time we comment, like, or click, it’s a vote showing where our heart cares most. When we are elated and celebratory, we cast a vote. When we are offended and threatened, we cast a vote. That’s what comments and likes do. They show everyone where you spend your votes, what rules your heart.

Now I struggle with this, because as a writer it’s become increasingly clear what topics stir the pot — which opinions brings out the masses. Having access to that data, I have to consciously decide to not pursue numbers and to stick to topics that have lasting impact, the ones that are near to my heart. Every time I post something to my blog, I pray it influences just one person for good, and that’s enough, because otherwise the numbers become addicting.

But I can’t help but notice the overwhelming amounts of feedback and comments I get when I post something related to politics. Or something that may be interpreted as “political.” It’s crazy — people start doing odd things, like writing me emails, sending messages, or even calling me. If I were in business, I would be like, “I definitely found the market!”

But I have a problem with this.

Let’s go back to those introductory phrases above. One is negative towards Trump, the other towards Hillary. The thing is, my social network is pretty much split over these 2 people. Some hate one, some hate the other.

Posting something related to either of these two individuals evoke an visceral emotional reaction from, it seems, everybody. And I hear “You’re right on!” or “You’re a stupid head!

Yet for each one political post I throw on social media, I have probably shared at least 10 articles and posts talking about the realities of sex trafficking. The plight of the poor. The exploitation of the vulnerable. The lost without a home.


How children in our neighborhoods are secretly being sex trafficked.

How pornography is the fuel for the massive sex trafficking economy.

How men, women, and children are literally sold as slaves in “slave-free” countries.

How sexual assault, abuse and discrimination are rampant towards all women, including myself.

And there is nary a word in response.

Slim votes. Minor care.

After seeing all the quick and lively comments and conversation about politics, I’m sitting here thinking, “Where did all you guys go??”

Why is it we are so passionate about defending (and defeating) political positions, and yet can not have that same passion towards fellow human beings? To my own network I say, why so enthralled by majoring on the minors? You show up to “Amen” a post that affirms your political stance, or, to the other, show up to discredit the incompetence of the same post, but when it comes to things that really matter, it’s all silent on the home-front?

You’re casting your votes, showing your colors.

And I really don’t know why. I want to assume it’s because we feel too vulnerable to actually show care for sensitive topics like trafficking on open social media platforms. Or perhaps we’re just vastly unaware. I don’t know why — I just see the votes.

And I’ve been there, and still feel the pull. The gut-reaction to make sure someone is set right and knows the real truth of the matter. But I normally end up walking away feeling . . . like I wasted a lot of time and effort for something that had no tangible results (besides pitting someone against me, of course).

I’m reminded of Isaiah 58, one of the chapters in the Bible that has literally been the most transformative ones in my life. The first half is a rebuke to the religious performance of “good” people, who I’m sure had really solid, air-tight opinions:

“On your day of fasting you do as you please and exploit your workers, and it ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

God then transitions to talk about the fast, the life of faith, that he directly calls us to:

“This is the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, to see the oppressed free and break every chain. Is it not to share your food with the hungry and the provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked to clothe them? If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness.”

That’s the life I want, the life I’ve been pursing, one that is more action and less talk. But I’ve had to question things recently: do my friends, do the people in my life, seek this out as well? Who is in my circle? Those who will stand in the gap for the oppressed, or those who will point fingers and quarrel?

What are my friends voting for, and is that what I choose to surround myself with?

I think that’s why more and more I like spending time with the poor. They seem to see things a bit more clearly and aren’t concerned with winning arguments because they are just trying to live. Also, many are some of the most giving, generous people I’ve ever met. They inspire me.

Because if all we can do is defend a position, we have missed everything in life. We become troll junkies, looking for the next comment thread fix to satisfy our insatiable need of being right.

If I can suggest something, try love and ridiculous generosity. It is much harder to do. And more rewarding.

I dare you.

Give as you have been given

It’s been almost a year and a half now since I began going on outreach to Asian massage parlors.

We were the first New Name route to start in the city of Chicago so this was breaking new ground. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but, knowing it was led of God, I plunged ahead in the way I only know how: full of ambiguity and a hope that eventually we figure this out.

It’s been a bit simpler, and a whole lot more complex, than I imagined. Simple in the fact that as a team we have no hidden agenda. We really do simply have conversations and develop relationships with the women in the spas. In fact, the whole agenda list is as follows:

We see you, we care about you, we are here for you. And, by the way, we aren’t going anywhere.

We’ve pretty consistently gone to 4 massage parlors in my neighborhood. And one in particular sits on my mind today.

Early last Spring I noticed “Grand Opening” signs for a massage parlor right around the corner from me. Whenever I would drive or bike towards Wrigleyville, I noticed the new spa. Even without going online to scope out reviews, I could tell it looked a little too similar. Neon signs, blinds in the windows, tacky massage stock images on the outside. I knew we needed to start going there for outreach.

So about 7 months ago we began visiting. Of all the spas we go to, this one has been the most odd and peculiar. In the few months we’ve gone, they have cycled through 3 sets of women. I’ll never forget one woman in particular who I felt I really connected with. Something about her was really. . . sad, yet beautiful. I hesitate to use “pitiful” because of course she is full of dignity.

When we first met her our 2nd time at that spa, everything about her was dissonant, confusing. She was probably early 30’s, thin, wearing odd clothes, too skimpy and mismatched for her countenance. Though slightly nervous, she quickly befriended us when she realized we were “safe,” especially having Cindy with us as an interpreter. How do I explain it? It was as if she was starving for acceptance and care.

She had recently arrived from China, perhaps only 3-4 months earlier. We found out about her 11 year old son and ailing parents. When we asked what she used to do for work in China, she hesitated then simply answered, “Nothing,” with a forced smile. Based off Cindy’s conversation with her, we came to understand that she came from a very poor village.

The more I looked at her, the more out of place she became. She had so much innocence about her; it was obvious she hadn’t been there long. We kept conversations light and superficial, talking about family and weather and travel. I walked out of there wondering if truly we were the only caring, interested conversation she’d had in a long time.

The next time we visited she was the only one in the front room, and I was overjoyed when we had an opportunity to talk more in-depth with her. Though our interpreter wasn’t with us, I had learned the power of translator apps while in China and India earlier that month. This was powerful because we kept our conversation quiet as we typed in the app and away from the ears of the security camera.

She believed that the only work she could do was massage (for those unsure of why this is a problem, Asian spas are often fronts of labor and sex trafficking), and she had to send money back to her very ill mother. We tried to communicate best we could that there are other ways to work here and that we could help if she needed. In fact, we could get her to immigration lawyers who would assist her in any way she needed, free of charge.

I again couldn’t help but notice how lost and out of place she looked, wearing this short dress and colored tights yet with body language that had almost a child-like presence. She kept smiling at us with her slightly crooked teeth and pretty eyes, even looking hopeful. She agreed to take my email address and we prayed with her before we left.

That was the last time I saw her.

New faces of uncertainty

We walked into this same spa the next month expecting to see the same women, but we were met with two unfamiliar faces, and they were immediately almost frightened of us as we walked in confidently and started chatting with them. It was a quick reminder to me that although our team is used to doing this all the time, it’s not normal at all for these women to have visitors that aren’t there as customers. It’s like, “Who the heck are these people and what do they want from us??”

After assuring them that we weren’t trying to sell anything or wanted to get information from them, they relaxed a little. We simply came to bring gifts and talk.

“Ok, ok, “ they said, with plenty of unconfidence.

I sat next to one girl, we’ll call her Sally. She hugged a pillow to her chest most of the time and didn’t engage. Whenever I looked at her she seemed far away, a tinge of sadness and fear. She really didn’t want to talk. The other woman opened up a little bit, especially since Cindy could communicate with her in her own language. We found out then that they had just arrived to this spa and didn’t know about the women who had been there previously.

We left knowing that was more or less a typical first encounter. A mixture of surprise, insecurity, fear and the most dreaded basic small talk conversation ever. But that’s the reality — it takes months of consistency and commitment before we gain any openness.

And now we come to last weekend, our Christmas outreach. Friday night we stuffed stockings with various gifts and candy for the women in the spas, and on Saturday Cindy and I headed out armed with these love bombs.

Because of travel, it had been two months since I had been to Sally’s spa. We had been praying frequently over this one because many sketchy details had surfaced in the few months we had been going compounded with information I found online. I wasn’t even sure if the same women would be there.

When we walked in, we were immediately welcome by Sally herself. And boy, was it a night and day difference!

She ushered us to the couch, sat on the other, and chatted away with us. At one point the conversation was so comfortable I felt like we could’ve stayed for hours, which, as you may surmise, is very unusual for our outreach. She seemed so young and cheery. It totally brightened my day to see her so comfortable with us.

We showed her the stocking and the gifts inside for her and her coworker. She was amazed.

“It’s incredible that you are so kind and give gifts to us. That’s so unusual.”


Give as you have been given.

I took a breath in, a breath out. In that moment the past year flashed before my eyes.

Just a week earlier over Thanksgiving I decided I needed to take time to write down all the ways I have gained in the previous year. Name all the gifts. I found that I get caught up with achieving the next goal or getting tied down with struggles that I forget what has even transpired in my life.

For me, moving to Chicago and the first few years here held mostly loss, it seemed. Or at least consistent inconsistency. It seemed like I could never get ahead and on some sort of stable footing in any part of my life. Though it was the least of my concerns, I didn’t have many possessions or home furnishings. I never had much money or a stable income. My community shifted constantly and my relationships seemed just as fluid. I was trying to dream but mostly it felt like I was just trying to survive. Add on to that emotional upheavals time after time and there you have the perfect storm.

But in the whirlwind of this past year I forgot about the gifts.

Upon gifts.

Upon gifts.

Upon gifts.

Actually around 67 to be exact. Yes, I counted.

And those aren’t just all minor ones, I might add. Some of them were dreams and prayers years in the making.

Like how I got to begin teaching entrepreneurship classes and connect women in the adult industry into this course.

Like how I traveled out of country to Hawaii, India and China.

Like how I was able to reach out to women and children in brothels in India.

Like how our outreach team went from 1 to 4 routes in the city in one year.

Like how I have a fully furnished home when one year ago it was pretty close to empty.

Like how I have money in my bank account and don’t have to agonize over every dollar I spend.

Like how I’ve been able to host 4 people in my home who needed a place to stay intermittently.

And many more. So many. Overwhelming many.

And I couldn’t believe how quickly I forgot. All of a sudden I look at my full life and it looks worlds away from my move 2 1/2 years ago.

But what I do know is that I didn’t create all of that. It was all given. It’s all been gifts, all of it.

I think God needed my self-sufficiency to be brought to the end of myself so that He could show up and stand out without me getting in the way.

Because now I know, and now you know, that this was a work of God Almighty alone.

Give as you have been given.

Shifting back to reality, I looked back at Sally, mulling over again what she had just said,“It’s incredible that you are so kind and give gifts to us”, knowing how bewildering it would be to take that credit.


I leaned in. “Sally, we give to you because we have been given so much. It’s just the overflow of our hearts. God has been so good to us.”

Nothing about that was cliché. It made a lump form in my throat in a surge of overwhelmed gratitude.

Sometimes I wonder if this is the only way to give, when my “enough” has run out and his abundance can pour in.

“Sally, have you ever read the Bible?”

She shook her head. “No, I never have.”

“If you want, we can show you more about God and how much he’s given to us.”

Cindy reached over and showed her how to download a Chinese/English Bible app, walking her through how it works.


What can I give him, poor as I am?

Dwelling over that day, I think, “All we gave her was just a stocking!” Seriously, it was so simple. Nothing earth shattering or even majorly sacrificial.

Maybe generosity is more about the heart and less about the gift.

Intuitively, we all know and feel the difference. Even at Christmas.

There’s the standard gifts. And then there’s heart gifts. 

Normally those are unexplainable and kinda uncomfortable. Those make us feel vulnerable because they come from a place of genuine, unconditional love.

“I require nothing from you as you receive this gift. I love you because I love you because I love you because I love you.”

Christmas schools us in this, that a Child in a manger is the gift that never stops giving. He has the most joy because he’s always given the most love. And that, my friends, is the best and only example to follow.

At least, that’s what Christmas means to me.

Where has all the honor for women gone?

It’s was a beautiful, sunny day in Glen Ellyn,

a west Chicago suburb. This place is a homey town and completely fun for exploring and enjoyment. It was a perfect place to meet up with a friend for lunch.

This was a month ago, a time when my outreach leader and I have our quarterly meeting where we talk about what’s going on in the Chicago world of human trafficking, sharing how our teams are doing, and speaking words of encouragement. I always look forward to it.

This specific time I was also meeting someone from Craigslist who I was selling a tablet to. While we were waiting for our food, he texted me that he had arrived at the cafe and was standing outside. I excused myself and walked out the front door, unsure of which sidewalk to walk down first.

I turned right, walking past several tables of people on lunch breaks enjoying the nice weather. I had only walked a few steps and didn’t see anyone yet, so I turned quickly to look the other way.

That’s when I saw an entire table of men watching me, just feet away. It seemed that conversation had ceased for the moment, and collectively, they were staring, gawking, at me. And they were definitely not looking at my face.

Immediately all my senses went on high alert as I quickly turned the other way and walked away, noticing my Craigslist contact. While we were doing the exchange, I was overwhelmed with a myriad of emotions.





I was hoping I could hide somewhere, perhaps find another way to go inside the cafe, but that was the only entrance. I walked past them again, trying not to look. Trying not to care.

But I was completely shaken. And it wasn’t as if this reaction was completely thought through and I had decided, “You know, this isn’t a good situation and that behavior isn’t right, so I should feel afraid, angry, and embarrassed.”

No, my reaction was involuntary it seemed. And it bothered me. And though I couldn’t process at that moment, I realized later as I drove home why this situation bothered and scared me so much.

You see, it wasn’t just one man doing that.

No, that happens all the time. I have to say I’m semi-used to it now. I know how to manage my emotions when it happens and am constantly aware of myself, knowing that if I had to protect myself from one man, I would. Like 2 days after this situation: I was walking home from Trader Joes and a man came out of a restaurant, and right after we passed cordial hellos he went on to stop and mentally undress me, all while trying to keep small talk, not once looking at my eyes. While it disturbed me, I knew all I had to do was keep walking, making sure he wasn’t following me, because, you never know. . .

But this was different. And it was more disturbing.

You see, every man at that table collectively and silently agreed that there was no dishonor  in all of them shamelessly gawking, as if I were some sort of prey.

That causes me despair, not just because I didn’t feel safe anymore, not just because I couldn’t know which guy only does this in his head and which one will act on it, but because they are middle and upper class business men.

These are the men I work alongside every single day. They blend in perfectly to the society. Because, so it seems, every typical business man looks just like them. Well-dressed, have families, have good jobs, basically respectable.

Yet the reality is that I stand in front of them and give presentations and try to sell myself on my skill and intellect, knowing that I have to work as hard as I can to overcome the initial sexual appeal I seem to offer and have simply because I am a woman.

I remember what I wore that day, I dress I loved wearing and one that friends loved as well. And I find it saddening that my first reaction in this situation was, “Is it because of what I’m wearing? Is it because the way I am?”

Because when denigrated, I, along with our culture, always seem to ask first, “What did you do wrong?” And my greatest fear is standing up in court one day to defend myself in a sexual assault case and hearing the judge ask me, “So, what were you wearing?”

I was burning so much after that incident I decided to write this blog post. But then I didn’t. I was too afraid, it was just too embarrassing. Trying to explain objectifying culture based off this one experience? A little too risky.

But then, after this past weekend, I realized that there was more at risk here then my own vulnerabilities. There are many countless women who have gone through unspeakable tragedies at the expense of a surrounding culture that says, “It’s OK and normal to dishonor women because, you know, boys will be boys.” It has forced me to think deeper about this, about my own experiences.

And bring back realities of more than one experience. As I lay in bed a few nights ago, dwelling on the pervasiveness of this issue, I recalled an experience I had completely forgotten about for years.

I was a junior in college

and working part-time off campus to have some money to live on. It was a decent job and a good way to encounter the real work world.

I was roaming the aisles helping customers when a fellow classmate walked in. Though he had been in a small class with me the previous semester, I didn’t particularly know him too well. I remember us praying for him in class for a missions trip that he was going on overseas.

It was kind of crowded in the shop and we were both trying to get through the same aisle. Instead of backing up, I leaned against the counter to let him pass by. And as he did he grabbed my butt. And then kept on walking.

It was as if my body revolted against myself and I felt like throwing up. I ran into a section that was secluded and silently screamed into my hand. I was shaking, catching my breath, and angry as hell. It was as if every created emotion hit me all at once and my anxiety was over the top. I didn’t know what to do. I visualized myself going outside, where he now was, and kicking him as hard as I could. Maybe punching him in the face.

But . . . could I really do that?

Then the questions came. Was it that big of a deal? Would I be able to defend myself against the questions that would follow? Was it worth the shame? In my head, me admitting to him doing that was saying that there was something about me that cause him to do it.

At least, that’s what I was thought, perhaps what I was taught.

I grew up in a conservative Christian culture and my college was exactly that. In that world, there’s a high standard for dress, especially for females. I was taught that girls dressing inappropriately caused guys to stumble. And based off the fact that I got in trouble since puberty for immodesty (I’m tall and there’s more “of” me so that automatically brought more attention), I knew that the first question I would be asked if I tried to make any claims would be, “So, what were you wearing? Can you put that on? We’ll make a decision about this case after you do that.”

In that moment in the hidden corner of the store, I processed none of that completely. But intuitively, based off how I knew the world worked, I knew that my only decision to save myself from shame would be to do . . . nothing. Just work as hard as I can to forget it. Which I did. Until this past weekend.

Somehow telling the story removes it’s power. And I also realize now that to not call sexual assault by it’s name, is to allow that same guy to continue doing that same thing to more and more women. Except now, 7 years later, if he’s never been called out for it, who knows what he could be doing now. There’s a price we pay for silence. It’s a double-edged sword: we females risk our shame for talking, and we also risk continue abuse if we don’t. Somehow, we’re the ones that seem to always lose.

Thought I didn’t understand it at the time, I was sexually assaulted. That is wrong, and that is illegal.

But at that time? I sadly wasn’t entirely sure whose fault it was.

As I lay in bed reliving that whole situation, I thought, “I wonder how many unquestioned ‘guy talk’ sessions, how many hours of approved sexual conversations did he participate in before he felt the boldness to act on those words, to a girl he didn’t even know?”

Two years later I was in graduate school.

I had finished my first year and was taking a trip with my friend to get away at the beach. I was on a short flight and sat next to this guy who was probably my age, maybe slightly older. His friends in the back of the plane were rowdy and loud, probably intoxicated, but he was sober and rolled his eyes at their antics.

We didn’t have much conversation, but near the end of the flight he asks me a few questions about myself and my hobbies. He was kind of expressive and dramatic, so it was slightly funny listening to his stories.

Then out of nowhere he looks at my chest and says, “By the way, you have very nice breasts.”

I was so shocked, and I looked directly back at him and said with a dead-stare, “That was completely unnecessary.”

What was so interesting about this situation was how utterly shocked he was at my reaction, as if I should have been empowered and thankful for his open gratitude for my body.

He looked out the window and said, “Oh look, we’re about to land!” And then turned away from me the rest of the trip, obviously very uncomfortable.

My reaction? After wading through the myriad of emotions, the fear, the anger, the shame, everything. . . I again start feeling bad for standing up to him. I’m serious people. I felt like I had been mean to him, maybe there was a different way I should’ve handled it.

I had complete confusion about who was the one that should be embarrassed right now.

It was becoming a pattern, the ones most embarrassed are not the ones speaking these words and doing these acts.

If they’re not ashamed, if they see not problem with it, then is it . . . normal?

Though I didn’t realize it then, I was sexually harassed. That is wrong, and that is illegal.

Three years ago,

well after grad school and into the beginning of my work career, I found myself in a relationship that was an entire lie. His life revolved around exploiting people for his benefit. Work, relationships, community – you name it.
And I myself was in the center of it, one of his women living in one of his lives.

Though it was only a few months, I remember being in a lot of confusion and many days of experiencing self-loathing and disrespect. He literally knew how to make me feel terrible for who I was, and then be the hero who rescued me from that.

It’s pretty twisted, and not normal. And it’s what is psychologically known as a Narcissist. We throw around the term a lot, as if someone is a narcissist if they are just a selfish, self-absorbed person. That is only a partial definition. A Narcissist is a person with true distorted reality, where they are always the victim and always the hero. They live manipulation and find vulnerable people to be their conquests. So, be careful on how you use that term. It does not apply to every annoying selfish person out there.

As you can probably guess, living in this world causes a good amount of damage and plenty of emotional wounds.

When I finally got out, it was as if a light was turned on and I knew right away who he was because it was the exact profile of pimps and traffickers — he was just not that far down the path of evil yet. I just never thought someone like that could fool me.

But you know what? It actually took going through that to finally stand up for myself, to finally believe I wasn’t worth being dishonored.

I couldn’t play with fire anymore. I couldn’t awkwardly laugh at the kinda-crude jokes. The locker room chat, the boys will be boys acts, the eye staring . . . the whole culture that shrugs as it as “not really that bad” gives room for these kind of guys to exist, and live freely as they please.

Because they know they’ll never be questioned. I know, because I tried to. I tried to assert my beliefs, and he always had a sob story for his actions and life.

During this time I found out one of my friends had been raped many times over the course of 9 months. When it was all said and done, her abuser would not see a day in jail because the (in)justice system believed she “asked for it,” though it was simply her way of surviving and protecting herself, which is common in sexual assault cases.

Also during this time I remember having a managers meeting with the CEO and GM of our company. He was enthusiastically teaching us about client engagement and treatment. He decided to use an example: “Hey (manager), what would you do if you were at a bar and you saw a gorgeous girl you wanted to get laid with?

After a moment of tethered anticipation from the team, he exclaimed “You compliment her!” The GM laughed along. “Or, you know, give her some money.” Yes, that was their best  way of explaining how to win customers over.

I was so lost in that moment, because these were people I knew and trusted. So, maybe this is just . . . the way it is? I guess maybe all guys are like that? It was hard to process, truly.

So after I came out of the other side in that toxic relationship, and started being more aware to my world around me, I realized that, no, it is not OK for you to treat me like this, or anyone else. In fact, no guy should be like that. I was furious I had been so deceived, and, as I came to realize, deceived for years. Deceived into believing that it’s acceptable to put up with behavior like that, whether in speech or actions.

I learned that abusive, manipulative behavior requires complete cut-off. For me to even vaguely stay friends would’ve communicated approval and opportunity for this to happen again. Yes, I forgave him. No, I did not keep friendship. Oh yes, he verbally repented and expressed sorrow, and I still walked away and I will not allow him back in my life.

Do you know why? Because true repentance requires sacrifice. It means loss. And he could never give up himself or his wants.

It was tempting. It was tempting to believe him when he said, “Well, we’re all sinners and what I did was terrible, so I’m asking God for forgiveness and I want you back because I know you’re a good, Christian, forgiving girl.”

It was through that experience that I found my calling, my whole calling.

I knew I was supposed to care for broken women and lead them into business, but now I had something I never had before: empathy. I knew how easy it was to get into that situation, and how hard it was to leave, and how broken your life is afterwards.

I also know that while God did not cause me that traumatic experience, He has redeemed it so beautifully. I was in long enough to feel the real pain, and He gave me freedom to use that experience to be a voice for others, to be a bridge of freedom. It’s led me into standing next to victims of sex trafficking and leading them to a new path and life.

Because this work and my own experiences, I’ve seen the dark side of potty-mouth language. The end of that road is death. It creates a safe passage for workers of evil, and inexplicable fear for it’s victims.


I found that not only were other men dishonoring me, but I eventually started dishonoring myself, with either silence or verbally laughing along. We females eventually, day by day, one unquestioned crude remark after another, start subconsciously believing that maybe this is the world we live in, and there’s nothing else to do but play that game and hope we don’t get hurt.

This is not all dark and despairing.

I’m thankful for bright sides, for good experiences, for men of valor. Some who may not blog, who may not speak, but live each day proclaiming honor to women around them by their consistent interest, respect and care for our souls, minds, and hearts.

2 weeks ago I met a man at church who I played softball with this past summer and we started chatting about business. Eventually I told him about the work I do in anti-trafficking. After speaking passionately about it for several minutes, Jeff says, “Wow, so what can I as a man do to help?”

My eyes got big, and I said, “Really?!” I wanted to hug him! My surprise was obvious, and I really didn’t know what to say. When was the last time a successful business man asked if he could help a cause where typically men were exploiting? Normally I just get sighs of sympathy.

It makes me sit a little higher, be a little more confident, when men stand up to actively protect women.

As I looked through my Facebook feed last weekend, I saw a post my friend Quantas wrote his thoughts in response to the recent display of sexual assault:

This makes me think of how much further we, as a society, need to progress to in how we treat women. The misogynistic, hyper masculinity, and overbearing patriarchy that was evident in his “locker room banter” has held women back for far too long. I know I’ve been complicit and an active participant in regarding women as less than equals, less than capable, and less than worthy of due respect.

It’s sad to see how half of our society has been held back from reaching their potential for most of mankind’s existence. It’s heartbreaking to think of how we’ve silenced women, treated them like objects, and held them up to impossible double standards. I’m on a mission to do better and call out others who don’t properly value women, be they male or female.

And that’s really all we want, to be treated as a person, not an object of temptation.

As I was growing and healing from my relationship with my ex, I was learning more and more what it meant to respect myself and understand my own inherent worth, no matter what anyone else said. A year ago I dated a friend for a few months who by example helped me understand these things better. While my ex was the epitome of disrespect, James was the complete opposite, the example of respect and honor for all people, including all women. It was a bit unusual to observe from up close, but I needed to see this “new normalcy” in live action.

I remember once, in a completely thoughtless moment, I made a somewhat suggestive comment about myself and how he probably thinks of me like that. He was immediately deadly serious as he said, “I don’t think like that.” It made me double-take, catching me by surprise. You mean I shouldn’t think of myself that way? And you don’t either? This was unusual for sure.

As I look back now, I realize that I was still having low expectations for honor from men. But not only that, I myself was placing disrespect on myself, that I was the sum worth of my body.

Him taking a stand like that for himself openly pronounced three things: “I am not disrespectful of you, I will not dishonor you, and you are worth more.”

And now, here I am, 29 years old, and finally “getting it,” that maybe I’m worth being honored both to my face and behind my back. That maybe I have disrespected my own self many years because I thought that was the only way to get by and be liked. That maybe not all men think of women as sexual objects. That maybe our culture can one day be a place where I can confidently stand in front of a room of men and be naturally respected for my mind and humanity.

A word to women

I’ve heard over and over these phrases: “That’s just the way it is,” and “I’m sure all guys talk like that,” and “This is all so hypocritical, trying to condemn someone’s actions and just look at our popular music — I’m not going to do anything.”

And then the overwhelming majority of us that simply sigh, “Why are we even surprised?”

To that I say,

When will you be surprised?


At what point will you allow yourself to be shocked?

Will it be when you hear your coworkers talking about the new secretary and who will be the first to get laid with her? Will it be when your 10 year old daughter comes to you and tell you about a man that touched her? Will it be when you find out your friend and neighbor was raped? Will it be when you realize a sex trafficking ring is being led out of a massage parlor 2 blocks from your house and they openly market that “young beautiful girls” are now working? Will it be when you learn of the child being sex trafficked in your subdivision?

To what is your response to these sisters of yours? Would you actually say them, “Well, you shouldn’t be surprised”?

Of course not, I hope. I hope you’d be shocked and surprised. But that’s the end of this road. Crude, disrespectful language + approved time = exploitation of women, of you, of your daughters, of your sisters, of your mothers.

Please, by all means, be surprised! Don’t lose the shock, even if it happens 100,000 times to you. Be outraged. Don’t be discouraged by the hypocrisy and have the courage to feel and love right through it.

It’s hard. It’s not popular and you may be thought of as “one of those emotional females.” But for us to be silent is to agree that it’s OK to speak or act in sexually objectifying ways.

You know what I think? I think we’ve lost our way. I think we’ve lost the purity of the Image of God we were made to be. It’s muddy and unclear, we’re subtlety told day after day, relationship after relationship, that we’re the problem. And the only way through it is to exchange the dishonor for power where we now use our bodies to get men to do what we want. By accepting dishonor and it’s cheap power, we in turn become the ones who now dishonor another.

You’re worth more. You are not a body, but a soul. Your freedom and empowerment comes from within, not without. You do not have to disrobe to be free.

I invite you — take the road less traveled by and search out your true value that is not tied to a person, an income, a compliment, a body type, or a life stage. It’s in one Person, and He will leave you completely whole.

A word to men

Value women.

Verbally. Actionly. Thoughtfully.

I remember after breaking up with my ex that I sat with my brothers and their friends and told them, “Please, just hang out with some girls and let them know what it means to be treated right. Because so many of us don’t know what that looks like.”

Set aside your ego and express heart-felt admiration that has no objective other than to be genuine. Obviously, you can do this to men or women. But if you notice that a female in your community or circle is good at something, tell her so. If she has expressed a certain gifting, applaud that in front of other people. Let her know that men in her life (who have no romantic interest in her) care about her well-being and development in your community.

Also, let a woman lead you. Ask her for her advice, or an explanation on how to do something. Take a course from a female. Read a book by a woman author. Prove your non-bias by seeing if you can do some of these things without criticism and with encouragement.

Because your verbal statements about caring and valuing women are only believed when you actually act on them.

Lastly, realize that my story isn’t all that unique. Leave space in your conversations to allow women who have been sexually discriminated, abused, groped, or hurt to feel safe with you.

And you know what else that means? Not defending and standing with other men or women who discriminate, abuse, grope or hurt females.

You know, we’re listening. And for every defense of misbehavior, our barrier goes up a notch, and we know you would never be someone who would defend and protect us if we were the ones in court due to assault, having to answer the judge’s questions, “So what were you wearing?”

I look forward to the future.

I hope my daughters one day don’t have to face the same world I do because of my openness and willingness to challenge this culture. I think that’s why I find it worth it in the long run, because this is the most difficult post I’ve ever written.

I also pray for spiritual amnesia and innocence, that what was lost can be regained.

I also hope that each new  story I hear from a survivor of trafficking isn’t just old news, that trafficking is never normalized. I hope to be a bridge to the freedom that God has for them.

There’s always hope. Each morning there can be purity of spirit and fresh joy. Redemption makes that possible, and that’s always our next step.

All this violence has got me bothered

I think it’s pretty ironic

That those of us never afflicted by violence

Are sick of it

And, you know, just so completely


Can the warring African countries just get it together,

Can South-siders just stop with the gun killing,

Can the drug addicted mothers stop prostituting and abusing their children,

Can a couple of rogue cops stop making America look so bad,

Can the Syrians just figure it out and stay where they are,

Because right now we are just too


Of the pain.

The discomfort and struggle

Of hearing of loss,

Of seeing people shot,

Of watching bombs destroy

So uncomfortable

From our stadium leather seats at the nightly news theater.

Right now we can’t have any peace

Because we are so disturbed by observing the gladiator games

From the sidelines.

So Bothered.

All of a sudden the world started mattering to us

When our presumed perimeters ceased feeling safe

So we must simply build higher walls

To protect the pure race

Bullet-proof, noise-silencer, eye-censored

To make sure we aren’t so


We say, “Oh dear Lord Jesus come!”

And they say, “Oh won’t someone come!”

And Jesus says, “I’ve told them to come.”

When the privilege of safety and freedom

Becomes a defensive weapon, then we create


When the privilege of family sleeping well and full in our homes

Becomes a guarded, unshared right, then we create


One privilege a blessing, the other Privilege a curse.

For cursed is the one whose walls are bigger than their tables.

For many of us, though, who sit in a safe middle

The “kinda sorta maybe that’s not right” crowd

Need an outlet to be proud

Of joining an action-less word-fight against evil.

Because, of course, we can’t be outright distant

That would be criminal.

So we create taglines of mercy

#heartbrokenforParis, #prayforOrlando, #SyrianRefugeeCrisis

#Furguson #PhilandoCastile #PrayforCharleston

Mere empty gifts of windy sympathy.

Real compassion requires loss

Each action a cross, your soul sacrifice

Because a heart broken is more than a token word spoken

In a digital press of unaccountability.

So keep hating the pain you don’t even feel

Keep decrying the bombs that don’t shake your home

Cover your eyes and ears

And pray for the Lord to come

And safe passage into heaven.

Where thank God we won’t be so



So now what?

We all typically have 2 kinds of resources:



Both require sacrifice when it’s used outside of our own wants and needs. But to not use either speaks louder than any hashtag. However, using one of your true resources will go a lot farther in partnering with Goodness in the fight against Evil.

Choose a cause. Choose your resource. Combine the two and incite some real movement and change.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

World Relief – They have Good Neighbor programs and other refugee assistance opportunities that I’ve seen to truly make a difference and help hurting people.

Read: Seeking Refuge: On the shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman

Police brutality and Black Lives Matter

Unless our public servants are held accountable to same laws and repercussions of justice as each citizen is, then our justice system will continue to silently encourage the mistreatment and killing of our black brothers and sisters.

Equal Justice Initiative is doing excellent work to defend the lives of innocent black lives and to change the injustice within the legal system.

Also, google “Protest police brutality in [your city]” or just ask one of your black friends how they think you should go about protesting in the community.

Read: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Violence, poverty, and unemployment

Poverty is complex. Which is why it takes many perspectives and intellect to solve one problem at a time, empower one person at a time.

Compassion – They sponsor children to break the cycle of poverty and give communities new opportunities.

World Vision – They do development around the world to give fresh water, sponsor children, create jobs, and develop communities.

Entrenuity is a Chicago-based entrepreneurship program that helps minorities and disadvantaged start businesses and rebuild local economies.

Read: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett

Watch: The Hidden Reason For Poverty The World Needs To Address Now, TED talk by Gary Haugan

Human trafficking

New research shows that 47 million people are enslaved today. That’s outrageous given the fact that slavery is illegal globally. While still gaining awareness momentum, most cities, states and countries have non-profits combating this atrocity.

International Justice Mission – The largest anti-slavery organization in the world.

Not For Sale – Works in the US and global communities to end trafficking and also assist in job readiness and business development.

ReadGod in a Brothel by Daniel Walker

WatchNefarious Merchant of Souls, exposing the disturbing trends of modern-day sex slavery

The Most Imperfect Triathlon

I think a lot when I swim.

I think a lot about not drowning.

With this triathlon journey, I could’ve made a movie called, “Finding Myself,” and subtitled it, “Just keep swimming.

Let’s start at the beginning . . .

The Inspiration

While in Hawaii this past February, I finally got the opportunity to get destroyed by the ocean like I’ve always wanted. This is called surfing, I suppose.


I always wanted to try my hand at it, but I realized that you had to have proper gear.

Like a swim shirt.

Because of the endless paddling on top of the board to catch waves, you need to cover your arms with a good swim shirt to save yourself from some serious chaffing.

So I found a purple one I really liked. I figured I’d rock my favorite color AND look like a pro.



Hello, I never spend $50 on a shirt. Much less for a shirt that I would wear once while on an island I will visit rarely in my lifetime.

I was devastated.

Because of my chagrin, my sister-in-law Kristin recommended other ways I could use the shirt again, perhaps a sport or activity that included water.

So I signed up for the Chicago Triathlon.

Well that escalated quickly.

I have a relatively athletic history. It includes sports like volleyball, basketball, softball, and kickboxing.

You know what activities I have shown the least amount of athleticism in my lifetime?

Swimming. Biking. Running.

I thought, “Ooh, I have a great idea — why don’t I do all of those . . . AT ONCE??”

Off To A Rough Start

Biking – Of the three, this is probably the one I enjoy the most. However, in my mind I feel like I can defy the laws of bike shorts, to my tail bone’s demise. Sure, riding around town a few miles at a time isn’t too bad. But when you ride longer distances without proper gear or hydration, it’s an equation for a perfect (painful) storm.

Running – I don’t know if you can interpret my form as “running.” Probably more like, “Creative trotting.” For example, during my last 5k race, I was feeling really proud of my run when I was halfway through– my best one yet! And then at mile 3 I caught up to this 67 year old man. I proudly paced with him through the rest of the race (I mean, who doesn’t need a little motivation?).

Swimming – I love swimming. It’s a blast. I grew up in a pool my whole life and our family frequented the beach. However, my version of swimming includes doggie paddling, inner-tube waves, and Marco Polo, of which things I am the real MVP. But real lap swimming? I think my first time in the big kids pool I embarrassed the entire YMCA.

Those first few swims I learned a lot, like . . .

  1. Real sports bathing suits are a necessity (semi-strapless is a semi-terrible idea)
  2. You’re supposed to breathe
  3. You’re not supposed to breathe under the water
  4. Kicking is supposed to work in conjunction with stroking
  5. Breathing is supposed to work in conjunction with kicking AND stroking
  6. I always knew where the lifeguard and defibrillator were located

I had a little bit of an episode the first time I went all in. I finally had goggles and tried the whole head-in-water-while-stroking deal, but couldn’t figure out when to breathe. I may have flailed and spewed, causing the lifeguard area to think they may actually have to do work during their shift.

Guys, this is serious. Especially when you start crazy things like training in Lake Michigan and you can’t see the bottom. It get’s pretty scary. And you realize, you can’t stop. You have to keep going. Or you will sink and die.

Fear of the unknown

That was my start.

Impulsive. Rough. Unprepared. Unprofessional.

And my finish?

The day of the triathlon came and I still didn’t have any real triathlon gear, I was one of the few without a wet suit, I nearly started going backwards at one point during the swim because of disorientation, I had to rent a bike because my own weighed more than a large dog, I didn’t have bike shorts, I had to Gorilla Glue pieces of my shoe to the bottoms to keep from flapping, there was a hole in one of my socks which made my foot burn, and I had no watch to keep track of my time (phones were not allowed).

I was completely under-invested and totally not prepared.

But get this.

I finished.


I started this whole thing with a pretty wild, uninspiring, and even bad, reason: a purple swim shirt!

To top it off, I hadn’t thought through the future. I wasn’t prepared for the struggle, for the near drowning experiences. I didn’t know that the investment never ends. I wasn’t ready for the sacrifice and commitment, of early mornings, long weekend trainings, and freezing Lake Michigan swims. I didn’t know how bad I was at swimming and how humbling it was to ask for tips and help. I didn’t know I would be out of country on a missions trip for half the month of August and would miss 2 important weeks of preparation and training.

I felt weak often, and sometimes wanted to just skip the swims, or not run as far.

And I had bad training days, when I felt like my lungs would burst, when my feet were burning from worn shoes, when the wind along Lake Michigan made my biking dreadful, when I skipped a workout because I didn’t feel like it, when I ate the wrong foods because I lost self-control.

I wouldn’t consider myself a role model.

But honestly, who is?

When we miss perfection

I think we have this idea of what kind of “role model” we should be, or how our situations should develop. It involves the unlikely word: perfection.

As an idealist, I have an idea in mind that makes me and my life work really well, it’s pain-free, and I always come out on top. And if I could control it that way every time, it would.

But then . . . Life. People. Situations. Crossroads. Hurts. Disappointments. They all happen, and it makes for perfectly imperfect journeys.

And that scares me. Why would I do something when I know that down the road I’m eventually going to lose control and I’m at the mercy of a situation or another person?

I think about my friend Emily, who moved to Chicago with a little bit of money and a dream — to bring economic development to her neighborhood by employing the people. So she started a business with no idea what she was doing and no textbook. There were many what we call “throw up in your mouth” moments, when the step was too big and the fear outweighed everything in sight.

But I am so inspired that she never quit, never lost sight of the goal, even though it seemed to get delayed all the time.

I’m in my own start-up and I’m like, “Really? 5 years and we’re still trying to go this launched? This is not the MBA-method.” It always takes too long, costs too much, and, on top of all that, each of us 3 founders live in different states. Very unideal. But, we’re launching it soon. These messy 5 years produced something.

With my first townhouse out of college I had a huge heart for hospitality and hosting people, but I came to find myself in an empty, cockroach-interested house with a couch affectionately called The Rock and 10 plastic Starbucks cups. I collapsed into tears. It didn’t get better anytime soon. And just this month I look at my home and see some sort of decency, the picture I had in mind 5 years ago. But I also look back and count the number of people who I’ve hosted when they needed a place to stay, somewhere around 10.

Maybe . . . maybe you can make it when you seem to have the worst end of the stick and it seems there’s no improvement in sight.

I can’t think of any significant accomplishment in my life where I didn’t have “throw up in your mouth” moments, unreal anxiety, troubling depression, and massive heartache.

Sometimes all we get in life is what we have, the falling-apart shoe, the sock with a hole in it, the bulky bike– or even more difficult, the missing arm, the crippled legs, the damaged eye.

And we starting hating our life because of the hand we’ve been dealt. It’s so unfair.

But it’s never fair.

We never get fair.

But we get life. We get a Life-Giver.

Is it worth it?

At one point during training I really wondered if it was worth it. This seemed like an awful amount of work and training for one day.

I’m not ready enough, I’m too tired, I have all the wrong clothes, I’m not fit enough, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not good enough.

But I kept repeating something during the race . . .

“I’m a triathlete, I’m a triathlete, I’m a triathlete.”

I kept imagining crossing the finish line and saying those words.


Yes, it was inspiring and awesome and exciting . . . and worth it. But sometimes you have to imagine the “worth it” before you cross the finish line, or you’ll never get there.

Our endeavors, our dreams, our hopes? Worth the time, worth the sacrifice, worth the love, worth the pain, worth the obstacles.

It’s those wide open spaces, the “great unknown where feet may fail,” where you find something worth living for, worth giving your all, and, at times, worth losing it all for the gain and the promise.

I don’t think I would have felt the same elation if had decided to skip the training altogether, and just walked up to the start line, lifted a 5lb weight over my head, and said, “IT’S WORTH IT!”

Sorry, you need to go through it, the long training and the struggle.

Otherwise, you’re never grateful.

Or strong.

Or real.


And hey, if I can decide to do a triathlon because of a purple swim shirt, please, tell me your excuses.

(and by the way, that $50 for the shirt I was trying to justify? Turned into $120 for the race registration, $15 for the goggles, $10 for the swim cap, $45 for the bathing suit, $50 for the bike rental . . . )


He Was Naked, Too

One of the amazing bonuses of hanging out in the social justice and anti-trafficking crowds is all the incredible people I meet and all the inspiring stories I hear, often first-hand. At a recent IJM Music and Arts Festival, I met Mary Anne at our booth. Our New Name booth was indicative of our work: simple and sincere. There were a few business cards, some small purple plants, and then a stack of copies stapled together. They were copies of a sex trafficking survivor’s story. Mary Anne’s story. As soon as I saw Mary Anne I thought to myself, “Now she’s a writer.” Obviously thoughtful. Unassuming. Kind and approachable. Really sweet too. And that’s when I felt a knot in my stomach that I just powered through and ignored. “No, she couldn’t really have been treated like that. Abused like that. No…,” as if my control in thought recreates reality. I took a copy that night but I wouldn’t read it for some time. I ignored what I didn’t want to accept. But finally I sat down and read. And entered her story. And wept. So hard I couldn’t see. And what I found was in not wanting to accept her story was really a refusal to accept mine. That perhaps the reasoning, “If you do the right things, you won’t be treated the wrong way,” may be flawed. Struggling with the belief that what happened to me must have been my fault because I must have done something wrong. Performance equals love. But what I found in Mary Anne’s story was another step of the healing journey God is taking me on. The step of seeing Jesus with me — the entire time. Never leaving. Never forsaking. Always faithful. And though some of us won’t understand the realities of being trafficked, if you live long enough you will be forsaken and misused. But it’s inside of that pain that we see — up close and in vibrant color — love, freedom, hope and aliveness in Jesus that we never would’ve experienced from afar. It’s a oneness with Christ you can’t find any other way.


“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame…” Hebrews 12:2, NIV


“No! I can’t tell anyone that memory!”

“Really? Why not?”

Why not? Is she serious? Of course she is. My “unthinkables” always seem like “perfect reasonables” to my therapist, JoAnn.

“Because the details are disgusting, and it’s not something you talk about with people. It’s way too extreme.”

“Mary Anne, sex trafficking is in the news these days. Many ministries are working to stop it and to help victims recover. I’m sure this won’t be the first time your friends will have heard about the issue.”

“Well, I’m sure it will be their first time hearing about it in relation to someone they know.”

Sex trafficking. Just hearing JoAnn say those words hurts almost as much as the images that continually flash through my mind no matter how hard I try to blink them away. Everything in me rebels against accepting the reality that those words and images could have anything to do with me.

JoAnn continues voicing her reassurance. “I’ve had other clients during my years as a therapist who had been trafficked in some way. You aren’t the only person I know who has been violated in this way.”

I tuck myself in close and tight on the couch, burying my face. A few tears squeeze out. “But I’m the only one I know.”

“Are you afraid your friends won’t believe you?”

I shake my head no. “It’s not that. I’m afraid….” I swallow and make myself look up at her. Drawing courage from the compassion and strength her tender expression is holding out to me, I name my fear. “What if they never look me in the eye again?”

JoAnn leans in closer, holding my gaze in hers. “Mary Anne, your fear of being judged by people if you tell them your story is coming from shame. You still believe you were the one who did something wrong.”

“I know I didn’t do anything wrong.” I look down again and focus on the pattern of the couch. “But what if they weren’t doing anything wrong? If I’m just dirt anyway, then they were just treating me the way I deserved.”

“Honey, this is where you need to hear from Jesus. Can you express your fear to him and let him speak to you about it?”

Nodding, I take a deep breath, then close my eyes and give in to the images, emotions, and other sensations associated with this sketchy but intense memory.

“It’s a summer afternoon. It feels like I am about ten or twelve years old. I don’t know where I am or who has taken me there. All I can see are the corrugated metal walls of a large storage shed.” Whenever I open up a memory, I always see the walls first. That’s where I kept my attention focused while I was being abused, so I could block my experience of what was happening to me, so I didn’t have to remember.

Trembling, but determined, I turn my gaze away from the metal sheeting of the shed to the naked young girl held captive inside. “I hate seeing myself like that! I feel totally embarrassed and exposed. I want desperately to pull my arms and legs in to cover my nakedness and protect myself from what is coming next, but I can’t. I can feel the ties holding me fast at my wrists and ankles, chafing my skin as I struggle. I wanted to get away, JoAnn. I really did! I just wasn’t strong enough. And the men were so big and scary; I knew they would hurt me if I didn’t do everything they said.”

I look up, my eyes pleading through the tears, needing her to know I had done my very best to make it stop.

“I know you tried, Mary Anne. I know,” she murmurs soothingly. “I believe you.”

Crying, I keep pushing through the memory. “I hate that line of men waiting, gawking and jeering until they have their turn with me!” Before they ever laid a hand on me, they had already violated me. I could see in their faces they were creating in their minds images of exactly how they were going to get their money’s worth as they waited to add their money to a growing pile on the small, rickety table at the front of the line.

“And I hate that pile of money! Is that all I was worth, a stack of bills?” Actually, I wasn’t even worth that much. I wasn’t the one they were paying. “How could anyone think he had the right to use me to make money like that? I feel like a piece of worthless, disgusting filth.”

I still don’t have clear visual memories of everything that happened to me, but my body remembers enough to know what those men were paying for. I also have some memory of their voices—no distinct words, rather their mocking tone of laughter telling me exactly what they thought of me. I heard lust, but that isn’t what has echoed through my soul throughout the years, framing how I think about myself. It isn’t their lust that has done the most damage, but their contempt.

“I hate their voices, and I hate these feelings in my body!” One by one the men kept coming to me, stealing pleasures from a body too young to know how to give them.

“JoAnn, there’s something I’ve never understood. What did they get out of it? I was just a scrawny girl, years away from even starting to develop curves. What did I have that grown men would desire?”

“They wanted your innocence, Mary Anne.”

innocence (1)

“I wanted to die. It felt like it would never end. When it gets too much, everything just goes black, but it feels like it never ends. It will never really be over. It’s too much.”

“I know this is hard, Mary Anne. You are doing great. I’m proud of you, Honey. You are being so brave. Don’t forget to breathe. Okay, this time, instead of letting everything go black, can you try to stay present in the memory and let Jesus help you in it? Can you see him?”

“Yes, he’s standing on the other side of the wall.”

“Can you invite Jesus to come inside and be with you there, or even take you away from it all?”

“No! I don’t want him to see me there—not like that. Please, I don’t want Jesus to see me like that.”

“That’s all right. Can you just tell Jesus what you’re feeling, what you’re afraid of?”

I nod and turn back to Jesus. I silently communicate with him. “Jesus, I am too ashamed to have you come near me. I’m terrified at the thought of seeing shock or disgust on your face if you look at me. I’m scared, Jesus, I don’t think I can do this.”

Immediately, the scene in my mind shifts, but I am so stunned by what I see that it takes me a minute to start describing it.

“Jesus is here in the shed with me, JoAnn. He is right next to me.” I stop, take a breath and then haltingly go on. “He’s on the cross. My view of him is from the back, but I can tell… he’s naked, too. And because of the nails, he can’t pull in his arms or legs to cover himself, either. He’s spread out for everyone to gawk at his nakedness—just like me—and those men are taunting him now, instead of me.” Jesus’ hand takes hold of mine and somehow his suffering becomes a refuge from all that is happening to me in that room. Each sharp pain in my body is swallowed up by the pounding of a nail into Jesus’ flesh. He matches my gasps for breath. I see the crown of thorns piercing all around his head and the blood pouring down his face and arms and feet, mingling with his sweat. Jesus is more of a sticky mess than I am. All of the shame I feel flows out from me and into him. I don’t feel it anymore. It’s completely gone. I guess it makes sense… I mean, how can I feel ashamed when Jesus is right there taking it all with me? It’s incomprehensible to me, but I just feel totally clean. And then suddenly, I’m standing free, clothed in a pretty yellow dress. I look up at Jesus, and it hurts to see him taking all of this for me. I ask him, ‘Is it okay for me to let you do this for me?’”

“It’s more than okay, Mary Anne. It’s my joy to do this for you. You are my joy.”


That’s when the grief hits, and I start crying really hard. JoAnn urges me, “Just let it go. Let it all out.” And, finally, I can. Before, I didn’t think I deserved to cry. Why grieve over garbage being treated like garbage? But as I cry, I can feel all the pain being released from my heart and pouring into his heart. As his heart breaks, mine is healed.

After a while, as my tears slow and I start to calm down, I notice something else in the picture. “JoAnn, next to the stack of bills, I see a pile of silver coins—the ones he was sold for.”

“Ask Jesus if he thinks that pile of coins represents his worth.”

“He says, ‘No, it doesn’t. But I felt the sting of it, just as you did.’”

“I feel this incredible with-ness with Jesus. I don’t feel alone. Jesus is with me, and he understands everything I experienced. And what’s really amazing, Jesus tells me that not many people truly understand what he experienced, but that I share some of it with him in a special way. He wasn’t just being with me, but somehow, he was able to experience me being with him. It’s so amazing! It’s hard for me to believe that he would feel something like that toward me…JoAnn, if Jesus and I can understand each other so well, could Jesus help my friends understand about me, too?”

JoAnn wraps her arms around me, and I relax into her embrace. “Mary Anne, think of the other times when you shared your stories of abuse with your friends. Don’t you think you can trust them with this one, too?”

I nod into her shoulder.

“I’m confident that most people you share this story with will understand, but there will be some who won’t.” She pulls back a little and lifts my chin up so I can see her face. “What you need to remember is that if Jesus isn’t ashamed to be your friend, then no one else has any reason, either.”


This is still a hard story to tell, whether to my closest friends or a crowd of people who are mostly strangers to me. Yet, each time I do, my story is received with honor, and I am embraced with compassion. Each time I heal a little more, and I feel a little bolder. I feel clean. I don’t have to be ashamed of my story, because Jesus was not ashamed to enter into it. As incredible as it is to me, part of the joy set before Jesus, that called him unflinchingly to suffering and death on the cross, was setting me free. Long after those men bound my body, shame continued to hold me captive, but Jesus has freed my heart, my spirit, and my voice. The joy set before me in facing my fear of telling my story is seeing many more people like me become free, too.

Dear Fellow Survivor of Sexual Abuse and Trafficking,

“Mommy! Mommy!…I wanna go home!…“No! Please, No!” These were the cries of a little girl that no one neither heard nor cared to hear. I was that little girl.

What about you? Were your screams loud enough to shake the walls, yet mocked as you were physically overpowered? Were you too paralyzed by fear to cry out or even to make a sound? Was the seduction of your young heart so subtle and your need for love and affection so desperate that the idea of saying no never even occurred to you?

Our bodies, our minds, our hearts – whatever sacred parts of ourselves were pinned down by our abusers, it makes no difference. Whether we were imprisoned in brothels, our own bedrooms, or simply our paralyzed wills, whether they secured their pleasures and our silences with money, attention, or threats, the same predatory evil was at work. However they “paid”, they were thieves, ruthlessly stealing our innocence, our trust, our joy, and our voices. I imagine that we all hold a silent scream within us. Silent, but not unheard.

Surely he took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,…

He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth.

Isaiah 53:4, 7 (NIV)

We were powerless to defend ourselves, but Jesus, the one who holds all the power in the universe, chose to become powerless in order to enter into our world of silent screams. Jesus took them into himself in his death on the cross so that he could resurrect not only our lives, but our voices as well.

The good news of the gospel is that there is not a single cry that Jesus hasn’t heard and taken to heart. There is not a single cry that will remain silent forever. While Jesus came to the earth the first time as a silent lamb, he will return as a roaring lion.

Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,

to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.

He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven

and sends it to the ends of the earth.

After that comes the sound of his roar;

he thunders with his majestic voice.

When his voice resounds,

he holds nothing back.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;

he does great things beyond our understanding.

Job 37:2-5 (NIV)

If you listen, you can already hear the growing rumble in his throat. It is heaven’s outrage at every act of violence and violation of one of God’s precious children.

It is also Jesus’ invitation to join him in that rumble – one voice, one story at a time. When we break our silence and begin telling our stories, we begin to find our voices, and the world begins to hear. As victims of sexual abuse and trafficking, we needed someone to hear our cries. We needed to be rescued and to be healed.

Now as survivors, we have a story the world needs us to tell. God is calling us to add our stories to his story. Not just our stories of abuse and trafficking, but more so our stories of how God has met us in those experiences and given us his power to triumph over them. We have a unique opportunity to give God glory and magnify his name.

A day of judgment is coming when we will look in Jesus’ face and see in his perfect goodness and perfect anger the vindication we so desperately desire. On that day, Jesus will call forth all of our cries and transform them into a magnificent, holy roar. Heaven and earth will shake with our collective outrage and then joy, as we shake off every last vestige of fear, abandonment, betrayal, and violation still clinging to our souls.

We have been silent long enough. It’s time for us to roar.


Written by Mary Anne Q. Do not reproduce without permission. Contact Mary Anne for any questions pertaining to her writing: