Eyes wide open and totally blind: what do we do when we wear human slavery?

“I couldn’t find my son.”

The father, crouched down and half-sitting in what looked like an incredibly uncomfortable position, spoke in a long-burning anguish.

3 years earlier he had lost his little boy.

The son had been playing outside the last time his mother saw him. Next thing she knew, he disappeared. No trace, no sign. His father, away at work, came home immediately to begin searching frantically.

The area, the woods, the neighbors, the nearby villages — none of them had seen his son.

Days turned into months that stretched into years.

“I felt like I was going mad. My wife seemed to be going mad as well. We couldn’t find him anywhere.”

The camera began panning the area, their home village in western India, showing the depth of poverty and the obvious the lack of food and clothing.

Yet even so, their dignity is loud and clear, despite being so poor. They understand that not everything that costs money brings happiness.

They know what’s valuable — the value of their sons and daughters.

The one thing they hold near and dear costs no money and is really their most prized possession — their children. Birthed in love, living testimonies of their own lives. That is the real treasure they carry.

Yet how cruel that these possessions that are the center of their worlds are live targets. Targets by those who live for greed and exploitation for their own gains.

No, it’s not the money, not the beans, not the farm animals they want.

That son. That’s who the slave traders want.

Humans, unlike drugs or other material possessions, can be bought, sold and used many times over the course of a lifetime.

If you want to have a financially successful career, human slavery is the most ludicrous industry yet.

This boy, one of the 27 million, lost his life and freedom and became one of those numbers. Stolen away and transported on a two-day journey south of their village in India, he was enslaved in the Indian carpet belt where 16 millions pounds of carpets go to the UK alone every year.

And he was only 6 years old.

To some, that age means he is vulnerable and meant to be cared for and protected.

To others, that age means he is an opportunity for many more years of gain and wealth.

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What is slavery?

In this documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation, they described slavery as being “locked away, held against their will, and enforced by violence.”

And in this specific region where this boy was kidnapped, there are over 4000-5000 children missing.

5000 stories.

5000 parents on the verge of madness out of grief.

5000 innocent eyes.

5000 little creative hands.

Slavery targets the poor.

Why? Because nobody cares.

Typically, only the poor care for each other. And yet they can’t afford to act on all the care they carry and find resources to ensure justice for their lives.

Nobody in the city or world scene would notice if they’re gone.

It should not be surprising when silent voices are silenced.

Exploitation is simply silencing voices until they are no more.

Silence though is perspective. The poor already have voices — and real, valuable ones. Perhaps we say, “I never heard them!” And Jesus says, “Don’t be surprised — the poor you will always have with you. Listen to them.”

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What slavery looks like

I watched in awe at the awful revelations. Children tied to carpet looms. Forced to work for 14 hours a day. Beaten for slowing down or speaking up. Never allowed to leave the building. They had to urinate from the rooftop.

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And they are beautiful rugs, for sure. Perhaps like this one:

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Of course slave markets don’t make shoddy products. If they did there wouldn’t be any demand for them. No, slave-made products camouflage very well into the world market.

Beautiful but silent.

And that rug — I was planning on buying one like it. A few months ago I was in the middle of fixing up my house, finally buying real furniture. And I could consider myself a thoughtful consumer! I do research, I compare prices, I’m not (that much) compulsive. When I found a rug I really really wanted, I was in the “let me think for a long time before making any impulsive decisions” state.

And it was attractive to me because, well, rugs are expensive and this was one relatively affordable. Geez, for anything decent it seems like you had to pay an arm and a leg.

Until I realized that some do pay an arm and leg.

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A few days later I walked away from the film, enlightened but trying oh-so-hard to resist. But I really need this rug! I can’t afford a “socially responsible” rug.

I looked up the specs. My rug was made in India. Then I would see this boy’s face, the dirty floor in the loom room where he worked, the 3 years of life he lost in order to make my floor for the next several years attractive.

I had to find out.

Maybe my rug was good to go. But I wanted to at least try to find out. So I contacted people. I contacted Wayfair, a company I have purchased from before and who had claims to my desired rug. I had no idea how and if they would respond, but this is what I wrote:

Good morning, I have recently made several purchases from Wayfair, of which I’ve been very satisfied. I have been planning on purchasing a rug here and I noticed that it is made in India. I am involved with anti-trafficking efforts in Chicago and will soon be going to Nepal/India to work with women and children who have been trafficked, and I’ve become aware of the pervasiveness of child slavery in the carpet looms of India. I looked on your site to try to find if there was evidence that these rugs are made with social responsibility, but I could not find it anywhere. Before I purchase I want to know where the rugs were bought  and that there has been research conducted to ensure that fair wage and labor have gone into the making of your rugs.

And here was their reply:

Hi Angela, This rug is shipped directly from the manufacturer, NuLoom. Regrettably they were not able to provide me with any credentials regarding social responsibility nor was I able to discover anything about them, one way or the other, online. We do not require the manufacturers we work with to be socially responsible, although we obviously would prefer it if they were. Given the lack of information on NuLoom, perhaps you would prefer to purchase a rug that is manufactured by Jaipur Rugs? They are socially responsible as indicated here, and SKU JCJ1645 is similar to the NuLoom rug you are looking at.

Whoa.

Notice I used the words child slavery, and they used the words socially responsible.

Notice that they don’t require their manufacturers to be socially responsible.

And that’s when I realized having a product made that was socially responsible, a product made without slavery, is a nice option at best.

I read this email and was drawn back in thought. I looked out the window, distracted by the view of the Sears Tower from my cozy chair (that I ironically bought from Wayfair). The linen curtains I recently purchased gently blew in the wind and I was reminded how much I love their color and simplicity.

My eye caught the tag. I reached down and held it closer: “Made in India.”

Ah! Curtains too??

Again, the same email but this time to CB2 (Create and Barrel). And this has repeated several times as I’ve started to purchase an item yet realized it was made in an area where an over-abundance of slavery exists. I’m like, “Do I freaking have to go through my whole house?!?”

Once you see something, you can’t unsee it.

We could take this down all sorts of paths. For instance, why do I insist on buying the cheapest product? So that I can have a higher margin to live on. If I have $20 I could spend all of it on an IMAX movie showing…. or I can go to the cheap David’s theater nearby with the broken seats, but I can see a movie AND go out afterwards for late night dinner.

I am no economics expert, but I learned that economics is simply decision making. And here’s the decision now before me, a life habit-changing question:

I can buy an inexpensive product that is cheapened due to free forced labor and have more to spend on other part of my life.

Or I can buy a slightly more expensive product that paid the person making the product and thus have less to spend on my life.

That is the million dollar question: which one do you value more?

Money. Or people.


Is there anything I can do about human slavery?

I understand — it’s overwhelming. It feels shameful.

But remember this — we will do anything to hide from shame, our own and others. And I think just being aware of that fact will help us to not run but to sit. Sit with the difficulty. And that brings me to my first suggestion:

1. Lament.

Feel deeply and express sorrow over these realities. We’re so quick to jump to solutions that sometimes we forget that grieving is important. That it is proper. That it is honorable.

Lament for what is done and what you can’t fix. Feel empathy without conclusions. It’s one of the most humane, dignified actions you can take.

2. Write emails to the companies you buy most often from.

Since most of what we buy is made overseas, you can assume that there is a possibility that something you own was made as a result of slave labor.

Here are some common industries fueled by slaves, specifically child slaves: chocolate, carpets, bricks, clothing, shrimp, diamonds, cotton, rubber, coal, rice and pornography. 

Will this change slavery in a day? Nope.

Yet would you assume then that means you have no responsibility?

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe that if we consume or use something pretty regularly, then we should at least express some basic intelligence in discovering the origins.

That why I think sending emails is an easy ask and first step. Every company, from corporate to local business, has some sort of customer service email listed on their website. So then you can…

Step 1. Copy and paste that into a new email message.

Step 2. Write a subject line, like, “Question.”

Step 3. Write a few sentences explaining why you’re emailing: “I’ve been learning more about human slavery in your industry, specifically child slavery. I wanted to know if you know the origins of this product I bought from you [or am thinking to buy from you]. Are your vendors required to conduct social responsibility?”

Step 4. Press send.

And that’s it for now. They may be like Wayfair and say, “We don’t require social responsibility.” Or they may send you detailed reports and regulations of how they enforce fair trade within their organization.

And either way, that may be all you do.

But you might start a conversation in that organization. You might get one other person thinking about what their company does across the ocean.

At the end of the day, we want our corporations to thrive along with the ones that make their products for them.

3. Buy from fair trade companies.

I met the founders of Matano via Instagram where we traded (fairly) thoughts about one of my recent blog posts. I came to learn more about their new start-up and passion for sports apparel that is ethically made. Since this whole fair-trade world was becoming something of a newer discovery for myself, I was encouraged to see other people who didn’t see social responsibility as an option.

It was just a way they desired to live life. And so they decided to bring other people along.

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That’s really all we do. We have values, they turn into passions, and, as the opportunity comes up, it partners with something tangible.

So it’s not just sports clothing.

It’s about free people.

And sports clothing is simply the vehicle.

Back them on Kickstarter, buy one of their items, and or just follow their business. I think we all need active initiators around us who practice and risk for a belief that is way bigger than themselves.

It’s just one company, a few items, and not that much dent in the universe of human slavery.

But this is just one tipping point. And with the combination of many others, perhaps we can make goodness fashionable again.


Additional resources:

http://listverse.com/2014/12/16/10-everyday-products-that-are-made-with-slave-labor/

Report: List of products used by child labor or forced labor

The Prostituted Asian Massage Parlors: Don’t look, don’t listen, don’t tell.

She’s just a girl.

Not too different from you and I.

Or your daughter, or your mother, or your sister, or your niece, or your granddaughter.

Well, there are slight differences, but nothing so significant that separates her humanness from that of our own women.

For starters, she’s from China. And some places in China, and many people in China, do not have the same access to opportunity that we have in America. The same money, jobs, loans, protection, freedom. It’s just not the same, and we have to start there because we often judge this girl as if she made her decisions having had our own lives and opportunities. She didn’t. She had a different life.

It’s not that one life is better than another. It’s simply different.

She has a family, perhaps a job, often education, dreams, talents, aspirations, and, above all, dignity.

There may come a point of crisis, or need, or dream, to provide more for her family, or for herself — to earn more income, to have more opportunities and achievements. Not every economy has a “career path.” She goes only to work in a clothing factory from sunrise to sunset and walks away every month with maybe $200. Not enough to live on. And definitely not enough to live up to her aspirations — perhaps as a doctor, or accountant, or fashion designer.

When you live on the edge of survival you can’t afford the luxury of dreaming.

But she hears about a job, and it looks like a pretty good job. Doing hospitality work for an upscale restaurant or 5 star hotel. And the pay would start at $2000. $2000 a month! That’s 10 times what she makes how! Imagine if she did that for just 2 years — she could save up so much to pursue a real education and career path in the land of opportunity. Which, of course, is America.

The land of the free, the home of the brave.

So she makes the incredibly difficult and courageous decision to leave what’s familiar in hopes for a better future. She finishes the job search online, as we all do these days, deciding between job postings, applying to some, having phone interviews, video interviews, job offers, and then even learning that the future employer may offer to cover travel costs and even costs of a visa to get to America.

She leaves.

She arrives.

And what she thought was a decision to move into the free pursuit of happiness turns into a living nightmare.

She has just walked into the sophisticated network of international human trafficking.

When she arrives, her papers are taken, she is moved to certain spots and areas, often not knowing where she is. Her entry level job, which may have been high end domestic work, a restaurant manager, or hotel housekeeper, is actually now one of hundreds of Asian spas in Chicago.

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And it’s no typical massage job. This one she finds she must perform sexual services as her job requirement.

What she ended up in was a front for prostitution.

But — but she’s only 19. She came here to grow and give and learn and excel.

This though — this is not what she came for. But now she’s lost and vulnerable — someone else is controlling her: her money, her security, her housing, her information, her everything. This may include physical beatings and rape as a way to “breaking her in” so that she knows who’s boss. Not enough customers coming in? Using her to create online porn is a solution. Gotta make money somehow off her. Resisting isn’t really an option, because her owner controls her money, food, and security.

Nobody would come looking for her if she went missing.

Of course she wants to escape — there’s no way America could really endorse this behavior. But there’s cameras everywhere in the spa, she can’t communicate herself or learn her rights because she is not given the chance to learn the language, she knows the police won’t help because illegal immigrants are not offered the same kind of protections and representation as citizens, and, quite frankly, no one knows and no one really cares about the immigrant prostitutes.

It’s the most overlooked square footage in our city. They’re poor, they’re foreign and they’re women.

She hopes that she can get out quickly, maybe just bide some time before getting enough money to move back to China. Her owner says she needs to work to, “pay of the debt you owe me from me bringing you here.”

But 1 day turns into a week, and 1 week into a month, and 1 month into a year.

And now it’s 14 years later. She’s 33.

“What do you want to do with your life? What’s your dreams?” I ask her this past Sunday while on outreach at her spa in my neighborhood.

She looked back at us with an empty stare.

“No dreams. There’s nothing I want anymore.”

We were all quiet as we let that admission settle into the air.

That was it. No hiding, no putting up a front to keep herself protected, protected from wanting something too much and not ever receiving it.

Her brokenness was real and we all felt the weight of it.

It all feels a little hopeless. An emotion a little too familiar, a little too acceptable.

I mean, she can’t speak English very well despite living here for 14 years, she hasn’t had a day off in a long while, and it looks like her desire is dried up.

But dried up flowers are pretty too.

They’re a little more fragile than full bloom flowers, but they’re not gone, and they’re definitely not useless.

I sit here wondering now if perhaps at some point Sonya* prayed to God, a God she doesn’t yet fully know, and asked for help. I wonder if one of her many desperate prayers was that he’d send some sort of relief and and freedom, giving her a chance to rekindle the fire of lost dreams.

I wonder if we just walked into an answered prayer.

I wonder if we just participated in a miracle, a 14 year-long dried, weary prayer.

I think 2 thoughts: first, that what an honor to be the carriers of light and hope, to be an answer by participating in others’ miracles.

And second, does not God also hear the prayers of his own children, of us, of me, and already has an action plan all set up for our help and deliverance and good? Do we not have our own miracles to walk into?


Though this story I piece-worked together isn’t solely Sonya’s, it’s a mix of a myriad of stories, articles and research told about immigrant trafficking and the Asian massage parlor facades. It’s such a complex, wholly difficult world to understand, mostly because there’s so much silence around it, from both those within and those of us without.

Though that conversation with her on Sunday may have been a difficult thing to hear, we were actually celebrating. Most conversations are superficial as it takes a long time to build trust and hear more of their story. Sonya in particular had been very distant and even at times hostile. But this time was different – she was open, kind, conversational, and allowed a deeper conversation than we’ve had with her previously.

We don’t always pray in person with the women, but this time we felt led and she welcomed us to pray with her in a circle, arms around each other. It was very simple, but so powerful. Her countenance was so different this time and she couldn’t stop thanking us and expressing gratitude. We were seriously ecstatic with praise for this breakthrough!

And her story is just one of thousands of those quiet and hidden Asian immigrants among us.

Be aware that these massage parlors exist not just in the Chicago city proper, or in any major city in America. Actually, of all the teams in Chicagoland, Napperville, a somewhat wealthy west suburb, has some of the most notorious parlors. Our teams are met by managers and bouncers at the doors who won’t even let them speak to the women. There are cameras outside the building as well as inside. Often the women work and live inside that building, never allowed to leave, and may not even know what state they’re in. To make sure they aren’t tracked, owners will move girls from parlor to parlor which are a part of a larger network of international trafficking and crime. They are very dark places.

However, that doesn’t deter New Name. We are a group of loved ones telling these women that they are loved, seen and heard. We don’t know their stories, how they got to that spa, and all the obstacles they have faced. But we know that if we are loved and forgiven, we have every right and place in the world to offer that to them.

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We have teams all over the Chicagoland, from Wheaton to North Shore to all the way in the city, and we go into the spas bearing gifts and offering friendship.

We also live and breathe prayer. If there isn’t prayer, nothing happens. There is no hope, protection, or relief without God’s intervention.

Yes, not all massage parlors and Asian spas are fronts of prostitution. But we target our spas based off of online research where Johns (those who purchase sex) will review their experience with the businesses and the women. The reviews are explicit and include checklists of their masseuse’s body and how they would rate their performance. Johns use these reviews to decide the best places to go with the kind of woman they want for the right price.

But we believe there is hope and freedom in this industry, for the survivors, the Johns, and the traffickers. All are offered a place to the table of Jesus.

Here’s what we don’t do: We are not rescuers. We believe that each person has an infinite amount of dignity, worth, and value. They are intelligent, capable, smart, and have had to learn how to survive in ways that many of us will never have to. It’s incredible. We have much to learn from them.

We have no agenda but to love.

New Name also reaches out to all women in the adult industry which includes women at strip clubs and prostitutes posting services online. We do call centers and follow-up in order to help each individual take the next step in life.

Often, when a women decides that she wants out, there is an immediate need for a safe place before moving her into a longterm aftercare facility. Often these are trafficked victims. Since safety is the first priority, we have created an initiative called the Safer Place.

Our Safer Place Initiative quickly transitions a woman out of the adult industry to a safe place until we are able to get her to a long-term care or healing facility. We started the Safer Place because we were meeting with women who were interested in getting out but were discouraged by their boyfriend, pimp or even family members from going into a restorative program. We’ve found that when we take a woman a significant distance away from where she’s been working, she is able to have the separation she needs from her environment and can take some deep breaths, relax and process her decisions.

So get this: It’s my birthday today and I unashamedly admit my exceeding jubilance for birthday food (hot fudge brownie sundae, anyone?), as well as celebrating with good friends with some serious swing dancing tonight. And I may have a Stitch Fix box waiting for me downstairs — gah, happy birthday to ME!

But what would be the most incredible gift is to see our new Safer Place be completely prepared for the welcome of our first woman. One of our team leaders has renovated her and her family’s home to offer our first Safer Place.

Check out the Amazon wish list where there’s a list of items that are still needed to furnish the home. Could you participate in another woman’s answer to prayer, participating in her miracle?

It’s beyond totally worth it.


*Sonya is her pseudonym 

Brokenness is the secret sauce of compassion

I never quite understood why I am the one doing the things I’m doing.

Yes, I’m typically secretly insecure, conveniently hiding under a layer of, “Of course I can do this and it makes sense and why not? Don’t challenge me.”

More often than not I’ve just tried to ignore and be louder than the suspicious soul voices: “Really? You’re hanging out with homeless guys, prostituted women, survivors of trafficking, recovering addicts, and abused children? Are you serious? You have no idea what they’ve gone through. You’re only naive and condescending. Who do you think you are, some sort of ‘help’?”

Yeah, it’s a slippery slope. Once you begin basing your value on your experiences, those thoughts will remove you from giving and will eventually descend into every other relationship and friendship until one day you’ve completely talked yourself out of being worth anything to anyone.

I’ve fought against giving in to it. Over and over. I didn’t always know why, though. But something in me knew that if I didn’t want others to judge me based on my externals than I couldn’t ever let that filter exist in my life.

But recently I’ve realized that the connection which leads to my compassion comes from a place where shared experiences are completely unnecessary.

If compassion comes from connection, where did that connection come from?

I’ve tried to figure out where everything changed and I started having deeper connection. I had a major spiritual encounter about 5 years ago that challenged my little world and narrow perspective. I knew at that point that I would be seeking out broken people, as I then called them.

Soon enough it wasn’t me going to them anymore; it was them coming to me. Or “random” encounters. Or perhaps just the law of attraction?

At this point it turned into something different, something unexpected. Though I had grown up in churches that did ministries for broken people, it literally offended me when my pastor once asked me, “So how’s your ministry going?” and another couple saying, “You must be really courageous.” I didn’t know why I wanted to react, but part of me wanted to retort, “It’s good – how’s your ministry going?” and “So why aren’t you courageous?” and “This isn’t my ministry; it’s my life and I’m simply friends with the people in my life who happen to be different from me. Why is that a special ministry??”

But I never said that because, obviously, it seemed a little unfair to some well-meaning people. And in its own vein self-righteous.

Yet I still couldn’t figure out why others saw my life as unusual or courageous when I particularly didn’t.

In the past 5 years my friend group has included homeless men and homeschooled guys. Drunks and preachers. Business owners and drug addicts. Strippers and homosexuals. Prostitutes and counsellors. Immigrants and high-end escorts. Missionaries and convicts. Muslims and foreigners. A lot of them I opened my home to or just shared life in general with them.

But I seriously cringe when I just list off categories like that, that somehow we can encapsulate an entire person into one singular label. We are not defined by our life season, our country, our societal culture, or our past record.

Additionally, we are never defined by our worst day or worst choice or worst circumstance.

So when others question my choices, or I question myself, I go back to where it began for me, which was something like, “Wow, you are the kind of person I would like to get to know,” and then as time developed with certain people, specific areas of brokenness surfaced, and that naturally led to opportunities to share life and help out as needed.

Some of those issues became trends. And I found those trends already had a name: social justice.

Then I realized why the so-called “broken culture” was especially drawing to me.

It’s not because they have some extreme external circumstance and it’s “shocking” and I want in on that so I can use their stories to make my life more interesting.

No, that would actually be exploitation of another face.

What I found instead was a common brokenness.

And broken people are attracted to broken people.

It long stopped being “they are broken” and it became “we are broken.”

For so long in my life I didn’t allow myself to be broken because I was ashamed of any internal brokenness or weakness, and for me not being strong was the most vulnerable and threatening place to be (and yes, still is).  So I created a really safe, protected life that never challenged my strength, which was, ironically, my greatest weakness. I was so afraid of being ashamed, of being vulnerable, that I created walls that kept me safe and everyone else out. It worked out pretty well for a long time.

That wall started to crumble when I went through my own depression and rejection which led me to actually feel and process emotions, and that experience caused me to recognize others with those same emotions around me. It’s like I had this new rejection radar and I’d see someone and be like, “You got it too!”

This wasn’t about me fixing them. But it was about us sharing something.

And that’s all, folks.

We don’t need to look for shared experiences or commonalities to find connection. We can simply look for shared brokenness, which is actually shared humanity.

And sharing brokenness transcends all barriers: societal, cultural, denominational, racial… all of that other stuff falls below the reality that we are sharing something much bigger, something much stronger than just “we look alike, believe the same thing, have a similar past, have the same struggles, and grew up in the same place.”

People are not projects and each one has incredible dignity, no matter how much their lives don’t make sense to us.

I’m finding that the ones that have the hardest time relating to others vastly different from themselves are the ones who won’t allow themselves to be broken. Oh, we all have it. It’s all there. It’s just that some people have had to deal with it in the wide open (your “societal broken” ones), and some have then allowed the struggle to make them stronger while still embracing the weakness of their continual brokenness.

Others, however, perhaps never had to fight external pressures and live on the edge of survival. Like me for so long, it created this false sense of self-reliance, that I can do anything, that I can fix myself, that there’s not really much wrong with me, that I’m above the struggle, and everyone needs to settle down about “justice” issues all around us.

Because when we have no awareness of our brokenness, we have no capacity for caring. Our compassion is only as deep as our brokenness.

And brokenness is the secret sauce of compassion.

Brokenness

A friend asked me not too long ago, “How do you get to the place of really caring about people, especially people who have hard lives I really don’t and can’t understand?” It kind of surprised me, though I appreciated her honestly, and I stumbled for words. “I guess, you know, uh, you just have to go through it. Just like they are. Like, you gotta feel that pain, the same kind they feel.”

It took some pretty difficult experiences for me to recognize my own brokenness, but now I wouldn’t change it for the world. I feel like I’ve never felt before. Don’t get me wrong – it’s often not really good, like, I don’t sit around thinking, “Boy, this anguish is incredible. Two. Thumbs. UP!”

No, I just feel things really deeply. And sometimes I do something about it, but sometimes it’s just real to feel. To know that some place inside of me still cares, even if it’s anger and bitterness or hope and joy. It’s all part of the process of letting go of strong-enough and embracing the this-burns-right-now brokenness.

At first I thought this post would be about social justice and not trying to create narratives that certain broken lives mean more than other broken lives, that just because we don’t understand someone’s brokenness doesn’t mean that we can withhold mercy.

But … maybe this is a word about that.

Maybe we can’t separate a fight for justice from the hand of mercy coming from a broken heart of compassion.

Maybe what we need is a lot more of is just mercy.

Where’s your brokenness?

If you can’t find it, then you may just be unaware of it. And you may want to investigate reactions of anger, wanting to control conversations, make sure you are right, and a desire to “do away” with certain people and causes (holla at your girl – been there, done that).

Stepping back and opening up like that will do scary things to you. But soon the things you were so scared of will be forgotten in light of the wonderful people you connect with, people who, by all societal means, you should not be spending your time with. Fear will assault you, as you will hear lingering voices, “Who do you think you are for thinking you have anything to contribute to this person?” Believe me, I live with those voices. But it takes a humble attitude of being needy and broken each day to make it through.

Look for those uncomfortable places. For me it’s been connecting with people and cultures that are way outside of my “experience” realm. I can’t say that I “get it” but I can say I know how it feels to be human (broken), so I can share life with them and feel deeply with them and about them.

When you’re at that place, you’ll be moved to do things most people won’t understand. But that’s OK. I dare you to love too deeply, risk too extravagantly, give too recklessly, and feel too much. It may not be a path that is clear and you may be afraid of what people will think, but the reward is fully alive and well worth each investment.

Impossible beauty from volcanic ashes

Beauty from ashes

I have a hard time grasping the reality of the phrase, “He makes beauty from ashes.”

If you’ve been through the fire and all you really do see around you is ashes, then your soul feels burnt and deadened.

Seems to me that seasons of ashes can’t really coexist with beauty.

But then I had a very eye-opening encounter recently. And that happened in a place where there is only beauty, no ashes, surrounding me — Hawaii.

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Not to make you jealous or anything, but Hawaii has got to be hands-down the most spectacular, radiant, glorious place on earth. And it’s not just one kind of beauty; it’s a wide diversity of everything from white sandy beaches, to towering waves, to staggering cliffs, to brilliant coral reefs, to jungle forests, to commanding landscapes. And it all takes place in about 80 degrees of weather — all year round.

Now I know you want to go there, I loved my time there, and people all around the world talk about visiting there. This little, tiny speck in the Pacific Ocean has everyone a spectator and counting down the days until a live encounter.

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However, Hawaii wasn’t always paradise. During a short educational film we watched before going to Hanauma Bay to snorkel in the coral reef, I learned how the Hawaiian Islands actually came to be.

Beneath the surface of the islands is what is called a “hot spot.” If you remember anything from 7th grade Earth Science, you’ll recall that the Earth’s outer crust is made up of tectonic plates. Sometimes volcanos will form in the middle of a plate where magna rises until it erupts on the sea floor — this is the hot spot. The Hawaiian Islands were formed by such a hot spot occurring in the middle of the Pacific Plate. While the hot spot is fixed, the plate is moving. So, as the plate moved over the hot spot, one by one the string of islands were formed.

How utterly fascinating.

Volcanos produced islands.

Ashes scripted beauty.

Destruction prophesied redemption.

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I was thinking about this as I was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. This particular bay was created from a volcanic explosion which created a crater and all the sediment from the destruction settled into the bay which made this perfect environment for a coral reef. And how beautiful the brightly colored coral fish were. And how perfect the sand and hot the sun.

What this nature story is telling is even deeper than first impressions (you know, the seemingly cliché “All things work together for good” stuff).

You see, this beautiful, perfect island was formed after time and time again of volcanic eruption. Again, and again, and again. The magma rising, the sediment building, volcanic bursts, and, after a long time, this paradise place started peeking out into the pacific ocean — much to it’s own surprise, I’m sure.

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But what about us?

Moving away from this paradise, let’s look at our own hell, our own volcanos, our own life explosions. I get it — life isn’t easy, there’s hard times, there will be pain, and somehow we become better people through it.

But what really irks me is the “Really? Again??”

When your own history repeats itself. When you can’t shake the despairs of the past. When you think you’ve healed and then something seemingly minor (or major) triggers something too deep in your mind and emotions, and it’s the same story, like nothing has changed.

The magna rises.

The sediment builds.

When pain comes steamrolling through your door, it’s not just dealing with that pain. It’s having to relive all the other ones that happened previously. People may say, directly or indirectly, “Ok, let’s heal already. It’s time to move on,” because they can only see that isolated experience. When someone has deep wounds and scars, it’s literally harder to move on each time because you have to relive each previous one and they stack up uncaringly. Now it’s not just getting over this pain; it’s getting over 2, or 5, or 10. It keeps building up. Each time it gets harder, and more seemingly impossible. And I think, “I can’t take one more thing, go through this experience one more time.” The future is terrifying, because the choice to live is this risk, and full expectation, that this just may happen again. Some way or another.

The magna rises

The sediment builds.

I think of friends who are going through deep waters, trials that keep repeating so much it hurts my heart. A beautiful couple and good friends of mine who have recurring pregnancy loss and have gone through the loss of 5 babies already. Another friend who lost her mom to cancer as a child, lost her dad to cancer in the past year, and now received the news that her fiancé at age 26 is diagnosed with cancer just 3 months before their wedding. My aunt who lost her dad to a car accident years ago, and then her 3 month old grandson 5 years ago, and how her own 30 year old son several months ago.

It’s not just the one time. It’s the repetition. Over and over and over again.

Once again.

The magna rises.

The sediment builds.

I felt resilient years ago. Obstacles and hurts didn’t have much of a past behind it, so I was able to jump back pretty quickly. But each deep hurt is like losing a limb. Go through it once, and sure, you can keep walking ahead. But 3-4 times? All you can do is lay limb-less on the ground with hardly the will to live again.

And we all have those, “Again, God??” moments. When will I ever learn that living and loving means losing everything? How in the world am I supposed to help other people when I’m incapable of controlling myself when I am at my weakest point? I can’t even think or accomplish things. I can’t even communicate with God. God, I can’t. I can’t. I have nothing to offer. I’m lost.

The magna rises.

The sediment builds.

And then…

What is that, peeking through the surface?

Is that something green, something alive, something …. beautiful?

Can’t be. Because I know that all there was before was destruction and ashes.

But something’s rising, something … new. Totally new. Shockingly new.

What once was a calm sea is now this attention-drawing island. And with such variety. Depth. Creativity.

The magna rose.

The sediment built.

And paradise bloomed.

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That corner of the ocean would never be the same again.

And that’s the hard part too. We can’t ever go back. Ever. After all the things that we have gone through, we cannot reach back into the past and regain our innocence, the times of a simpler life, the heart that is unshattered.

You see, God’s not creating the next better version of the Pacific Ocean. He’s actually building a whole new island.

He doesn’t make things better. But he does make things new.

Because that’s what love does.

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This ocean would never be the same. It had to accept the change. It lost one thing to gain another. Redemption is actually written into creation.

And what’s incredible about Hawaii? I get to enjoy this because something a long time ago went through fire and destruction. And it turned into something beautiful that continues to give and attract people from all over the world.

Because beautiful things will attract attention. And every beautiful thing has a past that includes a lot of ashes.

I think … I think … I want to be like Hawaii.

And I think …. that has been God’s plan all along. But there comes a time of agreement, of “yes and amen.”

That means, though, I have to embrace the trial and fire and heat and hurt and pain. It’s part of the process, the journey, the sanctification.

When it’s all said and done, when something new is starting to burst out, the point isn’t what I lost. The point is what I gain. By losing what I had, by losing my claims to my life, I gain a new one, a fuller one.

Only Love can come up with a story like that.

Inside the lava-like fire are hurts and pains that we don’t understand or think we really deserved. Yet we recognize it. We receive it. And we proclaim “Amen”. In that seed planted, we in turn receive a harvest of righteousness.

And so our life becomes an island alleluia.

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To read more of the stories of my friends I mentioned above who are going through difficult but beautiful stories, read their blogs below:

Lindsay And David Blair – My Journey With Recurring Pregnancy Loss http://lindsayablair.com/2016/02/12/my-journey-with-rpl/

Bobbie and Ray – Neatly Wrapped Packages  https://jeanbobbi.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/neatly-wrapped-packages/ 

What Are We So Afraid Of?

The Strength Of Safety

I’ve been learning a lot about being safe. Inside safe. Emotionally safe. Only allowing influencers in my life who don’t emotionally use me and take advantage of my weaknesses. Sometimes it may even come down to, “I care about you, but I’m not safe around you. I need to leave.”

I’ve realized how very important it is to set up boundaries, to decide who is allowed to have access to my heart and who isn’t. There’s a sense of purpose and power in that, that I have a say and have control over my spirit.

I have the ability to make decisions about who speaks into my spirit.

Here is the irony though about this kind of safety–

When I am the most emotionally safe, I can walk into the most unsafe circumstances and be secure. and strong. and untouched. Because the circumstances around me don’t affect my sense of security. Even the people around me don’t have power to determine my safety.

I have one heart and one spirit that God has given it to me to steward. In deciding who gets to be close to me, it allows me to grow in love, and thus grow in safety. The more love I have capacity for, the more safe I am. The more safe I am internally, the more I am able to live freely externally without fear. This is because someone’s treatment of me in response to my open life doesn’t determine my sense of security, for good or bad.

Those who are most loved are most safe. They are the ones that help others become safe and loved.

Love and safe

The Dark Side Of Fear

On the flip side, those who are the most in fear are the ones who feel the most unsafe. They are always on the lookout to protect their own safety.

I know this all too well. The amount of fear I battle seems unreal. Many times I’ve been crushed under the weight of feeling unsafe. In those moments I have to step back and consider, “Why am I afraid? What is causing me to be unsafe and feel like I have to protect myself?”

Sometimes it’s been a relationship. It’s someone who I allowed to speak into me who I didn’t have any boundaries with that expressed verbal or emotional misbehavior towards me. In the fear cycle, I often look inward and take the blame, afraid to lose the relationship, and then I become very powerless and try to find a way to protect myself, which normally means trying to control that person or the atmosphere.

Sometimes it’s been in the work place. I’m afraid of someone finding out my mistakes, so I try to hide while I make everything perfect and presentable. Because if someone finds out I don’t have it all together then they will think less of me and I’m not valuable.

Sometimes it’s been in the community. I drive through the “rough” part of town and see lots of homeless people and drug use around. I’m afraid of feeling emotional for these people or getting taken advantage of, so I avoid even eye-contact with them.

Sometimes it’s been a national threat. After 911 my fear was controlled by whether or not there was a mosque in my town or by being in a plane with someone with tanner skin than I.

You see, if I’m afraid of something, I become powerless and lose control over myself, feeling the need to fight for the safety I feel threatened that I may lose. Because I have no internal safety keeping me steady.

The Source Of Security and Insecurity

But where does internal safety come from?

Love.

Where does internal unsafety come from?

Fear.

You know how powerful love is? Those who are the most steeped in love have the ability to live in the most unsafe, hazardous places. Not that they all do, but the power that makes it possible lives within them.

Because those external circumstances have no access to their heart, their source.

So if love rules our souls, if God (who is love inherently) is ruling, and the people we let speak into our souls are also reinforcing that same love, I dare say, what can we not do?

We can be powerful. We can reach further out. We can do seemingly scary things.

Because love leads us, not fear.

Since when were we promised external safety?

Never.

We ought to be the first to love when we have the most to lose. Because we count everything as loss compared to living in love like Christ and knowing him.

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It’s hard, because usually we’re afraid of what we don’t understand. Like those of a different religion. Or those of a different sexual lifestyle. Or those of different economic circumstances. Or those of a different color. Of those of a different culture.

I’m in the business world. I work with business owners and get to watch their fears play out. Why is it that the owners are typically afraid of the measly lower level employees?

Because when employees make suggestions for change, it means that the owner may lose something. Change isn’t good. When you’re in a place of privilege, change is threatening. Change causes fear, afraid that your position will be removed, that the safety net of money, power, and control will crumble around you.

This is normal for those who have lived in privilege, which, compared to the rest of the world, would be middle class Americans. Change is always threatening when you’re at the top and have nowhere to go but down.

Why is it that the under-privileged are the most open to change? Because they have something to gain from it. Because when you’re at the bottom you have nowhere to go but up.

So what’s the point?

When we look to our circumstances, and laws, and nations, and officials to set our compass for safety, we will always be afraid. Because we’re not ever in complete control of them.

However, when we live in a place of love, there cannot be fear. And we can accept an unsafe world. We can walk into an unsafe atmosphere knowing that we have a power residing within us that cannot be shaken.

So that’s why I ask,

What are we so afraid of?

You know what tempts me to be afraid?

Not Muslims. Not refugees. Not mass shootings. Not pro-abortion laws. Not marriage redefinition laws. Not pimps. Not Ebola.

What I’m afraid of is spending my whole life creating a paper mâché fortress around me so that I can be protected against the external evils of this world, living internally in bondage, chained to my own fear.

I’m afraid of not ever loving.

I’m afraid of not ever risking.

I’m afraid of not ever once looking like the real Jesus.

Lord, this Christmas give me the heart that would have been one of the shepherds that received you into this world. You were not just not from this country; you were not even from this world. 

Why in the world would I jubilantly sing about accepting a helpless baby in a manger with one hand raised, while pushing away a vulnerable refugee with the other hand?

Maybe we haven’t really received the vulnerable child in the manger yet? Maybe we only want the Jesus who reigns in power and judgment over the evil in this world and not the Jesus who was a meek, helpless baby?

Would we be the Herods of this generation that destroy all that threaten our outward sense of safety, position and control?

Or would we be the ones that welcome, yet even prize, the weak and vulnerable? and accept even the miraculous— because, seriously, a virgin having a baby is seriously threatening to my religious sense of right, wrong and possible.

Jesus went through the whole process. He came from a different culture, he was a newborn exposed to animal mess in a barn, he with his parents were vulnerable refugees, he was a child, a student, an apprentice, a laborer, a leader, a sufferer, a convicted criminal, a dead man, a resurrected King.

He can relate with he most powerless and with the most powerful in this world.

He is our only model. His humility is the only way for us to live. His safety is our only confidence. His love is the only thing that empowers us to love.

And his truth trumps every other opinion.

Let’s not react in fear. Let’s not be like Peter. When he saw that Jesus was threatened in the garden (and actually, Jesus was going to be killed. Seriously. He ended up dying), Peter took out his sword and tried to kill the threat. If we Christians were Peter, we probably would have pull out our concealed weapon and defended Jesus, killing as many threats around us as possible. Because this life is all about being safe and saving our lives, right?

Jesus would be like, “What in the world do you think you’re doing? If you live by killing threats, you’ll die in the same way. If you want to gain your life, you’re going to have to lose it. Hey hey hey, Peter, you realize I’m here? You’re safe. You don’t need to be afraid and react. Stop trying to save me. You need to let me go die. Oh, and just as a heads up, one day when you are most loving me and most safe in my will, you’re going to die by crucifixion.”

This totally blows my mind. The Gospel life is so full of paradoxes that it can only be believed by faith. It’s not natural. But in the kingdom, it’s totally normal.

Is our safety determined by our circumstances? Or is our safety from within, untouched, strong and unmovable?

Maybe we can be the ones who set the standard of love, who live in soul-safety, and who walk into unsafe places and welcome the unsafe ones, loving them into the kingdom.

10 ways you may not realize how your life is affecting sex trafficking

Exactly 5 years ago I began down a path of connecting with people who I thought were vastly different from me. This began with those who were in drug addiction, then those who were homeless, then those in prostitution, then those in domestic violence, and eventually those in human trafficking.

You know what happened as I met them?

It stopped being “them.”

And it became “us.”

First, I found that many of my own hurts and wounds were very emotionally similar to those in the “broken” culture. Hey guess what? I’m just as broken! And I think we’re all there– we just have various ways of coping or covering shame.

Second, the economics of my life choices became increasingly obvious. You see, I realized, as in Economics class, that making one choice is a choice for something and a choice against something else. All of our choices and actions and voices and thoughts affect those around us. We affect our culture by the choices we make and don’t make.

And I’ve come to find some very clear ways we contribute to sex trafficking around us, though normally unknowingly. However, ignorance is not bliss. So here are some ways you may not realize that you are contributing to sex trafficking around you.

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1. Calling prostitutes “sluts” and “whores.”

This unfortunate name-calling is perpetuated not just in our culture’s movies and music, but also in passing comments from average people and saintly church-goers. It’s a way of removing someone else’s lifestyle from our own connection so that we aren’t also soiled.

This practice also gives us permission to look at a woman who has on provocative clothing as someone we have permission to denigrate and look down on. “She dresses like a slut,” or “What a whore” are phrases that stiff-arm women far away from ourselves and “normal” people, and then categorizes them as simply sex objects who want to express their physical power.

Which, my friend, is far from the truth.

And it totally overlooks the reality that in the sex industry there is often very little choice involved, which brings us to the next point.

2. Believing that those in the sex industry are there by choice.

Prostitution is simply the exploitation of vulnerability. Statistics show that up to 95% of those in the sex industry have experienced sexual abuse in their past. Why do you think the correlation? Think about it— growing up, these children never understood the right they had to their own body. Then, when they grew up, all of a sudden someone offers money for what others have taken freely. It was a natural progression, but only because exploitation has been their normal expectation.

Another aspect of this lack of choice is the reality that most women chose this work because they didn’t have any other options for income and were in extreme circumstances. Funny how that works– they chose sex work because they didn’t have a choice.

This is a hard one to explain, because many of us do not understand what it means to be totally and wholly lost and without hope, to deal with not just having no way of taking care of yourself, but also dealing with emotional trauma and deep soul wounds. It must take a lot of courage to decide to perform sex acts with someone you don’t know in order to pay the bills and put food on the table.

I’ve talked to strippers, high-end escorts, street prostitutes, and massage parlor escorts, and every one of them said they were there for the money because they didn’t have another way to bring in a real income. And once they were in long enough, it was an endless cycle and nearly impossible to get out.

3. Having a limited, “slavery” view of human trafficking.

Yes, trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. But it’s slavery with a different face.

Slavery simple means forced against their own will. And many in prostitution are forced and exploited outside of their will.

But they are not in physically chains. Yet you can be certain to know that the emotional bondage is very real and controlling.

I had a friend who came to live with me for a while who was escaping her boyfriend who had literally beaten her with hangers, burned cigarette butts into her skin, stabbed her multiple times, and she still defended him and blamed it all on herself. You see, the chains we need to be aware of are the chains of mind control, brainwashing and manipulation.

And those kind of chains are the most frightening and most damaging.

4. Not being aware of children.

It’s hard to hear, but children are being used as sex objects. In America. In our cities. In our neighborhoods. On our watch.

It’s easy to overlook kids as just tiny humans and not take their non-verbal and verbal cues seriously.

But here’s the reality: the U.S.Department of Justice states that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 years old.

And that’s trafficking. And it’s happening to at-risk children as well as not-at-risk children everywhere. Be sensitive to the children around you, especially ones that may be “acting out.” It may be for a reason.

5. Watching “free” porn.

It’s a sad fallacy that just because you don’t pay for porn, then of course you’re not actually supporting the industry.

The reality?

Somebody pays, and it’s typically the girl behind the camera.

You see, the fact that trafficking exists means that there is more demand than there is supply. The more clicks, the more proof to the leaders and marketers of the sex industry that the demand is still there. And they will do whatever it takes to supply that demand.

6. Thinking, “Well, she likes it.”

We may think that a prostitute or porn actress really loves her job.

Think logically about this for a moment: Why would she say she doesn’t like it (to you or anyone else)? If she doesn’t feel safe around you, if she doesn’t trust you, if she knows she’ll get beaten if she doesn’t perform or bring in enough customers, then of course she’s going to tell you whatever you want to hear. Of course she’s going to act like this is the best life ever. Because she knows to be honest would mean losing her income, or losing her health, or coming to grips with her hurt and trauma beneath the surface.

Which brings me to the next point…

7. Being brutally insensitive to trauma.

Here’s the thing about trauma— when you try to explain your feelings and hurt and then someone blames you for it or gives a pat, sympathetic answer, it’s a slap in the face and a trigger to run and not trust anyone ever again with those feelings.

Those that have experienced varying versions of trauma (whether verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, etc…) are in desperate need for help and sometimes that plea for help may come out in odd ways or with unexpected reactions.

But often what they need most is for someone to empathize and just be with them in the moment.

We continue to perpetrate survivors of trauma by not listening and by walking away in their deepest hour of need.

8. Expecting survivors of trafficking to be OK with simply attending a community group and reading their Bible every day.

Survivors need therapy. Though many won’t say that or admit to it (who wants to admit they have serious issues? Yeah, me too), they’ve been through mental warfare and need emotional intensive care. This is not church small group stuff. This means professionals and years of work and tender care.

9. Taking people at face value and assuming you know their story.

You may be surprised to realize how many prostitutes, strip club dancers, and abuse survivors there is living inside your inner circle. We all have hidden lives, do we not? And often by not being vulnerable ourselves, we place this plastic film over our lives that looks like strength but smells like shame. It keeps us protected, but also keeps others at bay.

If we’re not vulnerable about our pain, then why would anyone else share with you about their hurts? or their struggle with sex? or their shame of prostituting?

10. Trying to rescue those who are being trafficked.

This is the one I’m the most guilty of (though believe me, I have been guilty of all of the above at one point or another). It’s easy to see this huge problem and decide to go on saving campaigns and rescue the victims from destruction.

The reality? This is just another power play.

It’s yet another way that these women are experiencing control from yet another person or group.

It’s deciding, “Hey, what’s happening to you is bad, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a decision for you that is obviously the best choice for your life. I know this is best. We’re going to do this.”

That friend I mentioned earlier? I was incredibly overwhelmed with feeling the responsibility to save her from this terrible man and terrible mental state. And it was seriously stuff.

But all I did was push her farther away, because then she was the victim and not the friend.

I’ve had a change of mindset. As Bob Goff says, “I used to want to save people. Now I just want to be with them.”

I used to want to fix people

So how can you make a difference today?

First of all, think through your thoughts. How do you think about those in the sex industry?

Secondly, think about your choices. How are some of your seemingly small decisions contributing to human trafficking?

Lastly, support one of these anti-trafficking organizations today. It’s Giving Tuesday and after days of shopping, make a real effort to give directly to help survivors of human trafficking.

Here are some organizations that I have personally worked with and/or volunteered with in Chicago. They are all doing amazing work in our city.

CAASE

What I love about CAASE is their focus on Ending Demand. They have an educator who goes into local high schools and middle schools to talk with boys about the realities of the sex industry and the fallacies they are seeing and hearing around them.

They also take the lead with legal advocacy in Chicago and Illinois. At the end of the day, if the laws don’t change, then longterm change is not possible.

New Name

Through New Name I have been able to do outreach in massage parlors in my neighborhood and come to a better understanding of international sex and labor trafficking. Massage parlors are very difficult as there is a huge language and cultural barrier. But New Name has a fantastic approach and view of these women and we are there to love and support and help however needed.

If you want to donate to New Name, please mail a check to PO Box 632, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137.

The Dream Center 

Last year I spent a lot of time with the Dream Center and was able to get involved with a street prostitution outreach. This was my first time “on the streets” and I was very humbled by my lack of understanding and lack of sensitivity. I found so much of this life is about survival and control. The women and men who work in the Dream Center are truly some of the most courageous people I know.

They have housing and after-care for girls who have been trafficked and women who have been in the sex industry and/or drug addiction. This is a place absolutely over-flowing with love and care.

So if this article has been helpful in your understanding at all about human trafficking, please share. Also, please feel free to email me or comment with questions or additional insights. This isn’t about pushing my opinions; I want this to be all about starting conversations.

So let’s have conversations that love and help people.

 

I Can’t Seem To Find An Ideal Church

I’ve had this angst now for a while.

It’s just… this unsettled feeling when it came to church.

I knew I wanted something, or was looking for something, but I wasn’t really sure what it was.

To give you a little transparent background, I have to admit I had become pretty disenchanted with church, observing a lack of the intentional and humble pursuit of unity, diversity, and act-what-you-preach living.

The more I learned of God through the church, the more I learned his heart for all peoples and cultures and genders and races. And so I slowly began changing. While it was a very real and organic change, it was also intentional.

Yet that’s when I started observing something. The kind of life I was starting to live began to stand out.

As… exceptional.

But I thought this was normal? I thought this is what the church stood for, preached and worshipped about? Why would moving into a life that reflected that outside of the church walls be so abnormal?

Why did we gush about how amazing the sermon was about welcoming all people with open arms, no barriers, just as Christ has welcomed us, and then debate about withholding mission support from a Gospel-focused agency due to their different style of worship music? Or have a church gathering that was all the same color, intellect level, economic state and activities when the surrounding community and city did not reflect that ratio? Or preach and condemn sensual clothing and porn but then pass by the prostitute and doing nothing to care for her state of exploitation?

It had all been very confusing to me. I was learning one thing about the heart of God, and seeing another.

So I was trying to figure out this alignment of what I say and how I live

But even more than that, I was learning of God’s heart for his people to be unified, that we’d be known for love not fractions. 

So deep down I wanted that: a gathering of people that was unified and diverse; a place where the unity makes us attractive, but the diversity makes us beautiful.

But I just couldn’t find it. Why wasn’t there one group where all that was present?

Where was the unified, diverse, faith-in-action church?

And I thought the problem was that somewhere there was this ideal church where all these great, amazing beliefs collided together.

I thought it was hidden somewhere, out of sight, that perhaps every other church needed to find this one church and start acting like that one.

I wandered for a while, moving from church to church, staying long enough to partake, but not long enough to commit.

I kept searching for that one.

Praying, considering, waiting, Repeat.

Then tonight happened.

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The Pray Chicago gathering and movement. Where churches from all over Chicago came to pray for the peace and hope and Gospel-advance in the city.

It was some of the most normal, extra-ordinary moments I’ve ever had.

The guy next to me was an immigrant from Morocco. The couple in front of me was from South Side. We sang worships songs in several different languages. Leaders from the city read Scripture reading through John 17 in their native tongue: Romanian, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, Mandarin, Tagalog, Hausa, to name a few.

Worship was extravagant and awe-some.

And I looked around me and literally saw the world.

Nations. Cultures. Races. Together and one. 

And we were not fragmenting. And we were real. Really caring and really acting and really believing.

And that’s when I realized it.

That I found it.

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 This is what I always wanted.

And this?

This is The Church.

This beautiful, mis-matched, imperfect, oh-so-glorious group.

Nothing matched, but we blended.

The unfamiliar languages were stark, but at the same time harmonious.

What typically are known as cultural barriers were points of celebration.

And it wasn’t just about the individuals. It was the collective parts of the city coming together as one to intercede to The One.

As the service ended, I sighed.

I just had a taste of heaven. 

And that’s what we’re here to do: pursue on earth as it is in heaven.

In Chicago as it is in heaven.

Yes. Yes I found it here.

But if it’s here in Chicago, then it’s in Greenville South Carolina. And it’s in Fort Wayne Indiana. And it’s in Madrid Spain. And it’s in Venice Italy.

So, I had some things to deal with personally.

You see, here’s what I realized that night:

There is no ideal local church.

There is only a Church.

It’s diverse. And it’s unified. And it’s full of good works.

And maybe when I commit to be a part of a really imperfect, un-ideal local church, that I’m committing to the worldwide Church of Jesus and participating in the Big Team’s wholeness.

I used to think that committing to one was saying no to others.

Now I know that saying yes to one is saying yes to all.

To make the macro-Church more unified and diverse, I must participate and struggle forward in the micro-church, no matter how un-unified and un-diverse it is.

And that’s winning.

Because if I don’t show up in this church relationship, then I’m creating a fraction and there’s a diverse spot missing. Just because I didn’t show up.

And when I say “show up,” I mean “give my heart into and commit.”

I don’t think I’m the first person in the world to ever seriously struggle through this. For those of you wanderers out there, I get it. You’ve seen some very real concerns and have probably faced some serious hurt from inside the church.

Yeah, me too.

So hear me out: I don’t think there’s an ideal church out there. Wherever you land, you’ll probably get hurt by someone, you won’t agree with the pastor at some point, you will be dumbfounded by some decisions, you’ll meet some hypocrites, you’ll get disheartened by your own hypocrisies, you’ll be lonely at some point, and you will begin to wonder if, geez, is this even worth it?

Yeah, sounds like work. Committing to anything is ridiculous hard work.

Let me just say that I’m learning it’s not about which building you commit to going to on Sunday morning and having the absolute ideal setting and people around you.

It’s how you interact with them every day. It’s how you serve. It’s how you lay down your life so that another may advance. It’s how you decide to show up. And keep showing up, rain or shine.

If we all did that, even in different, un-ideal settings, wouldn’t we be creating an ideal, unified, diverse Church individually together?

Here’s the thing: one day, our imperfect, struggling churches who flounder in unity and diversity and good works will come together at a really cool celebration in heaven that will look like a super-charged version of Pray Chicago.

And that’s when we will realize that what we always wanted we already had all along.

Lean In To Loneliness

DeathtoStock_NotStock10Soul, be thankful for these lonely days when you only have your heart and time to be responsible for.

Maximize the loneliness.

Go deep.

Discover yourself through God’s eyes, for the time will come when your life will be full of pouring out what you have been soaking up in the quiet days.

The amount that I am able to impact and pour into other’s lives in the future is in direct correlation to the amount and discipline that I pour into myself.

Immerse yourself in God’s word.

Think deeply. Create unbridled. Give extravagantly.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Arm yourself for battle. Wield the weapons of warfare. They aren’t made overnight.

Remember that my strongest weapon, my character, is forged over long lengths of time and fire.

Feed richly, but only those things that promote health and energy.

Learn to listen well when no one is talking.

Discern what is God and what is noise.

Love his voice above all others so that you can love others better.

So love your loneliness, for it is a gift from God for a specific season for a specific purpose.

It is not your fault, but rather a king-sent mission.

Lean oh so strongly in to loneliness. For the longer and deeper the lean, the stronger and greater the soul muscle.

Making Judgements About The Moon

Moon

The bright moon is rising

Captivating only my quick glance

Before I move on

Because I think I understand it,

That just because I see it

Means I “get” it.

But if only I studied– if I distrusted my initial judgment–

If only I dug deeper than my first impression

I would be floored and humbled

By my arrogant assumptions.

To think I know anything about the moon

When I never heard it’s story

When I only read books about it

When I only listened to gossip about it.

It seems that my perception could be vastly different

If I changed my method of judging.

If I stopped and considered the moon’s realities, I would see that

It’s closeness is great only because of it’s sheer mass.

It’s light is not selfish, but simply reflective.

It’s marks are not defects or self-inflicted, but massive craters

That tell of depth and time and beauty and experiences.

I think I can hold it

But I cannot.

I think I can define it

But I cannot.

I’m starting to realize the uncomfortable truth that

The only way to have intimacy of the moon

Is to visit

And listen

And discover

And study

And commit

Over a long period of time.

Only then do I dare tell you

What I think the moon is like.

 


 

Sometimes I think we make experiential assumptions about people around us.

Sometimes I think we make educated guesses about cultural issues.

Sometimes I think we try to figure out someone else’s story through the lens of our own.

Maybe it’s time to meet the person behind the statistic.

Maybe it’s time I need to stop thinking my story is “best of many” and starting thinking it’s “one of many.”

Maybe it’s time I commit to one concern, one group, one person, instead of trying to be an authority on all.

I’m starting to understand that it’s vastly unfair to speak my opinion with authority when I have no intimacy with what I’m trying to speak for or represent.

I also had no idea that this internal confrontation would happen when I sat down to watch the blue moon last week.

You never know what will trigger new questions and realities.

And sometimes they happen only once in a blue moon.

Abortion: Are We Actually Pursuing Justice Or Only Condemnation?

As an open advocate of human rights, I absolutely stand in the gap for the babies that have been unjustly called fetuses when they are totally human, that some people see their organs as a means of gain when a real breathing human could have had those organs and went on to live a very productive life.

DeathtoStock_NotStock5However, to only cry out for babies rights and not for women’s rights or fight detrimental socioeconomic issues is very short-sighted.

I think it’s much easier to virtually stand against a “black and white” issue than to step into messy situations and complicated lives that set the stage for something like abortion to exist.

But let me back up first, before I throw my opinions and thoughts out there.

Because I know behind every issue is a story. A person. A face.

I want to be sensitive to friends, to women, who have had abortions.

To some, it was through a very difficult situation and to see your FB feed covered with abortion videos is to re-live terrible pain and trauma that many of your friends will never understand.

To you, friends, I have absolutely no judgement or shame to throw on you. You are, and always will be, accepted and loved.

It’s not a line that you may have heard before. Perhaps right now you only feel the weight of judgment and hurt. Perhaps you don’t know what you feel. But either way you know that to openly talk about it with your conservative friends would be to open yourself as a live target.

Let me assure you that Satan wants you to live under that lie, that you only have worth if you hide this part of your life from prying eyes.

No matter what anyone else says, you have no guilt, no fear, no shame under the blood of Jesus. He loves you no matter what you think of yourself or what other people think of you.

To everyone else, my friends, do you actually know someone who has had an abortion?

If not, that’s interesting because twenty-one percent of pregnancies in the United States end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute*.

Outside of what the media says, do you know what issues set the stage for women to pursue abortion as the only viable option? Or do you just assume that it’s only people who don’t like children and are irresponsible?

Have you only listened to the 5 o’clock news, or have you sat down and humbly listened to the story of someone who has had an abortion to learn about what led them to that decision?

Do you think that there has ever been oppression, abuse, or deception surrounding some women at the time of their abortion?

Have you ever considered poverty or socioeconomic issues as a potential root?

How have you been a part of the solution to help women in desperate situations?

Do you so fiercely condemn people involved with abortion that you shut a door to hear your friend’s voice who would like to have someone listen to her story?

I don’t have the answers to all these questions, but I want to be sensitive to all lives and all stories, both babies and women, doing what I can to practically pursue justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God.

*Here’s an interesting article– it seems to have some solid research. http://www.vox.com/a/abortion-decision-statistics-opinions