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 

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.

New things

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/ 

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.

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

How To Be A Mom Of Justice: Fighting Human Trafficking While Juggling Tiny Humans

Growing up in a family with 5 other siblings, justice was all about me getting the same amount of cookies as my brothers.

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Some of my favorite tiny humans

Lord help us all if one child got more pieces of candy than the others. For my parents, I’m sure managing “justice” was a full-time job. We were extremely vocal is there was even a hint of unfairness in the distribution of sweet goods.

So for parents to think about stepping in the world of social justice can seem daunting. Managing the demands and schedules of tiny humans who at times believe the world revolves completely around them and their Fisher Price toys is a very demanding task.

However.

It is possible.

It is possible to do justice,

to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God.

It is possible to raise a generation that is aware of children, women and men that are enslaved in sexual exploitation.

It is possible to create a force of world changers who don’t just care, but also act.

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Example of an awesome mom juggling tiny humans! Shout-out to my sister-in-law Kristin

And this doesn’t happen on accident.

This is a word for moms. The mom that can’t imagine adding one more thing to her plate. The mom who can hardly get her child to share her Barbies with the neighbors. The mom who is overwhelmed with getting from one meal and one nap to the next.

Your life and your role is unspeakably important.

And I’d like to introduce a grain of thought that you can live for justice actively with your kids.

But it may look different from the way I live. In fact, it will look different from mine. I’m in a totally different season of life. Your ways will look different, but your impact will also be different, and perhaps greater. In having children, your impact opportunity is exponential. Think of that! It’s not all about how much you accomplish; it’s about multiplying your compassion many times over in your children’s lives.

That’s the kind of math we need in this world.

Moms (and Dads, of course), here’s some things to think about as you approach living an active life seeking justice in your community.

You are not separate from your family.

Whatever you choose to do, do it with your family, with your children. Teach your children about these realities. Don’t hide the realities of human trafficking from them.

Research child trafficking. Read. Watch. Become aware.

Become aware of the realities of child trafficking and prostitution in America and in your very city.

Missing child or runaway report? That child will most likely end up in child prostitution or some form of sexual exploitation.

Foster care and social services? Most of them have gone through some sort of trauma, many of them from sexual and/or physical abuse and are at risk to traffickers and pimps.

As a mother, as a parent, you will have an understanding and anger inside of you that is more direct and empathizing than those without children.

But don’t pursue this out of guilt or revenge; pursue it because you know love and justice are two sides of the same coin.

Allow your heart to melt. Your actions will naturally follow as an overflow of your heart.

And then share with your children. Appropriately, of course, but you can be a good judge of how much they can process at what age.

But whatever you do, don’t hide them from it. Because otherwise we will one day have a generation of sincerely ignorant and insensitive adults who turn their gaze away from really uncomfortable realities that they could actually have an impact in.

Ask your kids what they think you as a family should do to help.

You may be surprised at the amount of creativity and generosity that your kids have. Why not ask and see what they come up with?

This is also about empowerment. If someone feels like they are contributing to a solution, then they will begin to own it for themselves.

Release control of your “perfect house.” Bring broken people in to mess up your perfection.

I’ve noticed an interesting culture of the “perfect-organic-range-free-germ-free home.” The kids can only eat perfectly wholesome food, this is where everything “goes,” schedules cannot be tampered with, and life in general revolves around the total interests of the kids.

And believe me, I know kids thrive and grow under healthy, consistent structure. And, please, someone give them regular naps!

But still, I think there needs to be a safe place where imperfect people can walk in as imperfect and feel accepted.

What if someone “dirty” comes into your home? Will your kids (or you) reject them because they don’t fit into the system?

What if you had a schedule that showed your kids that helping others is more important than playing video games?

What if it was all about “This is simply how we live as a family” instead of “Geez, this is another thing we have to add on top of our already crazy schedule?

For instance…

Our whole family participates in yearly 5k’s to raise awareness about human trafficking.

We go to a local orphanage every Tuesday at 4:00pm and give them cookies we made.

We bring a few kids over from local social services once a week for family game night in our living room.

Every time we give our children allowance, we require that they give 10% of it to raise money to the local safe house for formerly-trafficked girls.

A few more ideas come to mind…

Choose a country that is under the blight of poverty, violence and trafficking. Pray once a week as a family for that country and do research so you can talk about it with knowledge and understanding.

Find an organization that is doing sustainable work in that country, build a relationship, get real names to pray for, and send handmade notes and cards to the ones in the recovery shelters.

Save up and take a vacation as a family to that place as a missions trip.

Overall, it’s about being intentional, being purposeful with your life.

Don’t let life control your life. Teach by example that we can make decisions about what our life practically looks like. We’re not victims of our circumstances or appointments.

If it’s simply a part of your life and values, then you don’t have to worry about “not doing enough” or having to carve out extra time.

But remember, at the end of the day, you are raising a generation of world changers…

So don’t discount the impact you are making to the world by simply being a faithful mom.

We become what we look at. So if your children are spending 18 years of their lives watching your virtues of faithfulness, love, justice, kindness, and generosity, will they not become that themselves?

Start with who you are. Take care of you. Take inventory of your soul.

And then live out loud.

I can’t think of a better way to be a mom of justice than that.

*****

Want to learn about human trafficking and exploitation in America and the world? These are my personal resources.

Here are some the most helpful organizations that I follow on Facebook and use for learning:

Not For Sale

Exodus Cry

International Justice Mission

A21 Campaign

The Abolitionist Movement

Here are organizations that sell really beautiful products that are either made by survivors of trafficking or support them:

WAR Chest Boutique– International free-trade products made by women survivors of trafficking

Bought Beautifully– International free-trade products that support survivors of exploitation

Starfish Project– fair-trade jewelry that employs previously trafficked women in Asia

Colette Sol USA– handmade women’s shoes to fight human trafficking

Cozzee– fair-trade coffee supporting survivors of trafficking

Conferences you seriously need to check out or see if you can stream:

The Justice Conference– Chicago, IL

Abolition Summit– Kansas City, MO

Global Prayer Gathering– Washington, D.C.

Books that have impacted my life and moved me to action:

God in a Brothel– by Daniel Walker. Stories of an undercover investigator’s experiences in saving women and children from sex trafficking around the world.

Possible by Stephan Bauman. A call to reconsider what it means to sustainably impact our neighborhoods, villages, and cities.

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas. The story of the remarkable life of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce.

Films that nailed it in showing the realities of trafficking:

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls– award winning documentary on the global sex trade

Demand– documentary that is produced by Shared Hope International and focuses on demand factors for sex trafficking

Dispatches from the Front: Islands on the Edge– documentary highlighting the realities of human trafficking in Southeast Asia

An Open Letter Of Apology To Black America

Dear Black America,

IMG_8300One week ago I had already decided to go to South Side Chicago on Friday night and attend the Peace Rally and March at St. Sabina Church, as well as attending Progressive Baptist Church, a historical black church in south Chicago, the following Sunday morning. Little did I know that the massacre in Charleston South Carolina would set the stage for me as I would awaken into a new reality and inner brokenness.

For myself, I was born in Joliet, a suburb of Chicago, yet moved to several different states with my family. Many of these places had opportunities of diversity: Virginia, St. Louis, and Orlando, to name a few. I also lived almost 9 years in South Carolina before moving to Chicago exactly a year ago.

I know Charleston very well. It was one of my favorite cities. I knew it so well that I would often act as tour guide when I took my friends there.

Yet at the same time, I didn’t know– didn’t know the hate.

But even so, as I’ve come to realize…

I could have known.

I just didn’t think it was as important as my comfort.

At the Peace Rally Friday night I entered into a world that was far from my own, but ironically only next door. A door I and many others in white America have never walked through, but had access to.

I saw a loving, heart-full people that are literally dying for peace.

They read the names of 100 Chicago youth who have been killed during the last school year. They had 23-year old guys talk about their lives being changed from guns and violence to faith and freedom, but also the realities that many of their friends were now dead or in prison. They talked of doing everything they could to make their neighborhood a safe place for their children to play.

IMG_8306When asked for a show of hands of how many people have had a loved one killed as a result of violence, I looked around and saw most people in the large crowd raising their hands.

But not me.

I didn’t live in that life. Sure, I was born just a city away, in a town that had the 2nd highest crime rate in America while I was growing up. But I didn’t know anyone injured or killed through violence.

“How did that happen?” I wondered.

One older black man put his hand on my shoulder during the march and said, “I’m glad you came.” We talked. We held hands and prayed. And afterwards we all hugged everyone else around us and verbally affirmed, “I love you.”

IMG_8310In the face of terrible violence and poverty in their neighborhood, this was their expression.

Love was their rally cry.

My white friends, or privileged class, never rallied like this together to overcome impossible odds.

We never had to be uncomfortable like this.

We never had to be strong like this.

Another man struck up a conversation with me and joked about how hot it was in the unusually chilly 50 degree summer evening. I laughed back, “This is hot?? I know heat. I just moved here recently from South Carolina…”

And I nearly choked. I almost apologized, “And– and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

And that almost-apology hasn’t left me.

Look at us. We are all applauding the open, public demonstration of forgiveness from the families of the Charleston massacre towards Dylann.

“How strong. How forgiving. How beautiful,” we admire.

We’re so happy to see a spirit of forgiveness in a racist situation.

God help us.

We are so blind.

We should not be expecting your forgiveness to offenders.

We should be asking for yours.

Where were we when your families were bought and sold like cattle? Where were we when your basic human rights were intentionally denied? Where were we in 1822 when multiple church leaders of Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church were executed by the governing authorities? Where were we when our politicians and businesses and families decided that you were less than worthy of the kind of life we lived? Where were we during Selma and L.A. and Baltimore and Ferguson?

Where were we?

Sitting on our privileges, that we knew wouldn’t change whether we acted or not.

You have never had that luxury.

As a young white educated privileged American, on the behalf of those like me who have lived a brutally insensitive life,

I am so sorry.

Like Nehemiah when he learned of the corrupt deeds of his people and nation and came to God and said, “We have sinned against you,” even so I now realize that the sin of Dylann is the reflection of a culture that turns a blind eye to racial hate and next-door poverty. The weight of the harm is heavy. My heart is broken. I am hurting to reconcile.

His sin is our sin.

Is my sin.

And so, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for not listening.

I’m sorry for claiming the colorblind Gospel of Jesus but not seeking community in faith with you.

I’m sorry thinking that I wasn’t prejudice because I had several token black friends.

I’m sorry for not laying down my rights so that I could advance yours.

I’m sorry for not being a voice for your injustices to the ones in power that I had access to.

I’m sorry for being afraid of what other people would think of me.

I’m sorry that we avoid poverty and violence like the plague, that we warn each other about going to the South Side, or the West Side, or whatever side of the city is the impoverished side, thinking that somehow it would make us dirty.

I’m sorry for discriminating, for judging you by what you say or what you wear or how you look or what music you listen to or how you live because it looks different from me.

I’m sorry for using my privileges to make myself more privileged.

I’m sorry that we viewed Ferguson and Baltimore as a boy crying wolf, and that it took 9 innocent black lives being murdered to realize that there is a race problem, and that it is black and white.

I’m sorry that it’s taken an event like this to make us care about you, that makes us come together and unify.

I’m sorry for arrogantly saying things like, “The Civil War is over. Slavery is in the past. Get over it.”

I’m sorry for dismissing our nation’s historical past acceptance of slavery as “It was just the culture then,” instead of saying, “It was an evil culture.”

I’m sorry that when you reached out to us in your most desperate hour that we said, “Keep calm and carry on” when there was in fact everything to be enraged about.

I’m sorry for my brutal insensitivity.

I’m sorry for avoiding you.

I’m sorry for Facebook posts and tweets and conversations that made assumptions without having actual real relationships and experiences with you.

I’m sorry that our public, private and Christian educators don’t talk about civil rights or the civil rights movement as something that is important to our culture and identity as a nation.

I’m sorry for South Carolina specifically, that we could produce a generation of activists against blacks, that it did not happen on accident and was bred with a twisted value system that of course nobody claims but doesn’t really question.

I’m sorry that our churches use the words, “Us” and “Them” and not “We.”

I’m sorry that our churches don’t actively seek reconciliation with you.

I’m sorry that I have waited for you to come to me first.

I’m sorry that I would weep about the vast need of the unreached nations and how I wished I could go, but then the next moment watch the news get annoyed about another black protest to violence.

I’m sorry for our white flight and shamelessly running in retreat from the inner cities.

I’m sorry that our churches would bring in organizations to fight poverty in West Africa but never went to the “bad” impoverished parts of town to feed the hungry children.

I’m sorry for the death of your children, your fathers, your mothers, and your friends through violence that could have been prevented.

I’m sorry for those nights you sobbed yourself to sleep, wishing someone would believe you, praying that someone in a place of power would fight for your cause, but we saw it and ignored.

I’m sorry for being part of the reason for many days and nights of rejection and hopeless feelings.

I’m sorry for the name calling we have done, denigrating your value.

I’m sorry that this has gone on for generations.

I’m sorry for assuming everything was a political move.

I’m sorry for my injustice against you.

I’m sorry for my faith without works.

I’m sorry for thinking of myself more highly than I ought to think.

Before everyone I want to make a stand and declare that you are valuable, you are beautiful, your spirit is strong, your voice is heard, your cause is real, your mission is just, your people are our people, your dreams are our dreams, your struggle is our struggle, and your victories are our victories.

Since I was silent, ignorant and insensitive for so long, I want to honor you and humble myself by making this public.

Will you forgive me?

**************************************

This is very personal to me. It’s an overflow of my heart that somehow made it’s way to an open letter and blog post. You may understand me, but you also may not. That’s ok, because it’s been a long process for me. However, if this is your confession and you want to express your sorrow over any of our ignorance and insensitivity, please leave a comment and then share. Let’s do this together and take a real step towards reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.

#letsreconcile

**Read more about our country’s historical injustice in an article by Lecrae

Broken, But Not Destroyed

I’ve been here one year, one whole year since moving to Chicago and totally starting over.

I came with a lot of hope, but inwardly carrying so much pain. So much pain from a betraying relationship in my personal life, and a verbally abusive power in my work life.

But even in my walk of hope into the future, in hopes away from the past, I had no idea the amount of resistance I was about to face.

You see, previously at one point in all my hope as I left to start a new season in my life, I thought I could do anything, accomplish whatever I set my heart on.

But instead of encouragement, I faced the betraying, abusive voices: “Who do you think you are?? What do you think you’re trying to do? You are nothing. You are completely unvaluable.”

The people of power and influence in my life had bullied my spirit almost into the ground.

I feel like I’ve lived with the humiliation of my hopes being dashed, and ashamed I was ashamed.

And yet– how can I say this– I knew.

I knew that I was supposed to step into a role of helping businesses be successful. I knew it was also time to partner with non-profits to build sustainable business models for them to help provide work opportunities for trafficked and abused women, to teach these beautiful women that they are more than their bodies, that they are full of potential and skills and opportunities within business.

This kind of work, this kind of “helping businesses” is otherwise known as consulting. And I thought this was it, this was my calling.

But the oppressive cloud hung over my head all year, and I couldn’t get the ridiculing, scoffing voices out.

“Who do you think you are? A consultant??”

At times this past year I have felt that all was lost.

I have had total meltdowns more than I care to recall.

I have felt like I’ve been on the verge of complete disaster continually.

I have faced very real injustice, betrayal, and brutal insensitivity.

I wanted to walk away. But I didn’t quit. I couldn’t quit— how can I explain it? I knew that I knew I was supposed to pursue this calling.

For so long I knew that God’s love was for me, and I was down with that. But I really didn’t think his justice applied to me.

Oh, but little did I realize that justice is love in action.

It’s really powerful love giving really powerful purpose. It’s hope wrapped in a gift.

It’s real. It’s received.

So.

Here it is. A kind way God has worked justice for me.

Today I started a job as a small business consultant for a reputable consulting firm in Chicago.

Who… me??

How was I to know that they would need a consultant that specializes in marketing and non-profits, which are both my favorites and my passions.

And folks, that’s when I knew that the only voice that matters is the one that created me.

Others can point and scoff and even in pious judgment say to God, “Who does she think she is??”

And he simply smiles and answers, “The best. The most awesome. The biggest world changer. You see, she’s with me.”

It brings to me to tears, that it all had a purpose, that following a very small seed of struggling faith was much bigger than any other opposition.

Sometimes it takes being broken to realize that you can’t be destroyed.

Broken

Thank God I’m Not Like Josh Duggar

Dear God, thank you that I am not like Josh Duggar.

You and I both know that their strict, conservatism was a huge front to the realities of his and his family’s life.

He is now exposed for what he really is: a sinner.

A sinner living like he’s something righteous.

Well, God thank you that I am not like this hypocritical, self-righteous sinner. Not only would I never commit an act like that, but I would never be so religious and fake. I am the most un-fake person I know and can make pure judgments of others’ sincerity.

I hope that by me standing up for what’s right and shaming him and this fake Christian culture that you would be proud of me, that I am encouraging all people everywhere to be real and transparent. Since the Gospel cuts through truth and lies, I am so thankful that I can minister the Gospel by heaping shame on him and his family, because shame is what leads anyone to change.

It’s what he deserves. I hate people like that, judgmental people that act like they’re better than everyone else. At least I don’t act like I’m perfect. And because I don’t pretend like I’m perfect, then I have a right to announce all the hypocrisy of those who do pretend, even if I don’t know them. I can tell; I know these situations. I’m a really good judge of intent and character.

So God, I thank you I am not like this sinner, Josh Duggar. Thank you for all of your grace to me. It makes my life so much better. I’m glad I can receive it, unlike other sinners. In your name, Amen.

*******

It’s such an easy trap to fall into, the trap of merciless shame-dumping: The Judgement Zone.

I know this Judgment Zone because it’s my gut reaction to situations like this one, when really bad things happen to the vulnerable ones by people who claim to be “good.” I hear these very words in my head and start boiling with anger.

But here’s what I’ve realized about this Judgment Zone: when we live in the Judgment Zone and rally around sin to expose it, no matter how big or how little, here’s what we’re really preaching:

“No one is ever allowed to mess up. If you want to be included or wanted, you have to be perfect. Or at least my definition of perfect.”

And we put more and more distance between ourselves and our relationships and our community.

We hold up the banner of Josh Duggar’s mess and shout, “He must be punished! And he must be extra shamed because he was faking! And it’s our duty to exploit it, to make sure that everything is clear and ends up being perfectly fair.”

Because he is the only one that’s ever messed up or pretended that he was something he wasn’t.

Because he is too far gone to be shown mercy and grace.

Because he’s tearing down the name of goodness and God in our culture.

Actually what’s tearing down the fame of God in our culture is a total lack of love. We should be known for what we are for, not for what we are against. We should be known for our encouraging lives, not for our exploiting voices.

I am just as appalled at evil and injustice as you are. I’ve seen it up front and personal. When my friend was beaten and abused by her boyfriend for months and she escaped to my house. When my friend was raped and the courts wouldn’t believe her and the perpetrator goes free. When I lost all my work when my previous company took unjust legal action against me.

JusticeIt’s not cool. It shouldn’t go undone.

I absolutely want justice.

But justice without love, without hope, and without purpose is no justice at all. 

We all applaud turn-around stories of people who were living destructive lives and then have a major “come-to-Jesus” encounter where they do a 180 and totally change for good.

We feel good when we hear stories like that.

But who will stand in the gap for them? 

Who will be the first to say, “I forgive you. I want the best for your life. I offer you a safe place to be imperfect and go through your change”?

Jesus is such a good example of this. He’s the one who sought out the dirtiest, most rotten ones of society and said, “Follow me. Let me serve you. I make all things new.”

So now we can also can look at the ones with the most exposed, dirtiest deeds and say, “Come be with me. Let me serve you. We’re going to go with Christ and he makes all things new.”

This is for the broken ones. Rich or poor. Popular or outcast. Perpetrator or exploited.

When we live less than this, when we become judgmental of the judgmental, we raise walls of separation.

And those observing from the sidelines who need help are cowered into silence because if anyone knew what was really going on in their lives, they know they would be shamed and bullied into the dust just like this guy was.

So they live in quiet conflict, their secret lives sealed shut beneath the surface.

But we can only go so long before the reality of our issues come out. And I believe that a culture of authenticity and grace-covering imperfection can help all of us heal of stewing internal struggles.

I want 14 year old boys who struggle with pornography, sex addiction and an unhealthy view of women to know that there is a place and a people where they can go and open up about their imperfections and find loving help.

I want 40 year old crack-addicted prostitutes to know that there are people who love them and see them as the valuable, cherished women that they are and are willing to walk with them into healing.

I want the cheating husband with 3 kids to know that he doesn’t have to live a fake life anymore, that there is a place where he can come in his brokenness to find forgiveness and restoration.

This is called radical grace. 

Because sometimes some things seem completely unforgivable. It would just be too radical.

But to the broken ones, to the ones that see their helpless state, this radical grace is freely offered.

And we are the agents and communicators of that grace in our relationships and communities.

And if that abuser, that pimp, that cheater isn’t broken yet? Well, it’s not our place to shame and break them.

We make boundaries in our lives, we pursue proper justice through our legal system, but we don’t light shame fires.

Shame never induces change.

But mercy does.

How do I know this?

Because I am the one who has received this kind of radical grace and unbelievable mercy.

And if I can’t give back what I have received, did I ever truly receive it in the first place?

I Wanna Dance With Somebody…But Only When I’m Perfect And Flawless

DancingThere’s something about dancing. I simply love it. Dancing has always been absolutely appealing and adventurous to me.

At the same time though, dancing has always been so ridiculously terrifying to me.

Admit it. You agree. Dancing is terrifying, especially if people are aware that you are actually trying to dance and not just being a wedding dance floor freak show for comic relief.

See, when you dance, when you really dance with pure enjoyment, you are totally vulnerable. When you are outwardly expressing with your body something that’s inside your spirit, it makes everyone really uncomfortable.

When I started learning how to dance, I unknowingly took a terrible approach. I like how talented people look and being talented myself, so I put on this cover of performance, that in order for me to matter, in order for me to be accepted, I had to dance well. I had to meet their expectations: my dance partner, the crowd, and the invisible camera recording this for YouTube.

And when I messed up? I’d feel shame. My cover was blown. I wasn’t perfect. And I couldn’t let that happen. I needed to keep up the performance.

Otherwise I’d be an embarrassment. I wouldn’t be loved.

Then dancing suddenly stopped being about enjoyment and it became about performance. It became all about me and not about the song.

Messing up was forcing me to be vulnerable.

But I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I wanted to be perfect.

Then a change started evolving. Slowly, gradually. This change started when I began dancing at church.

I just made a lot of you really uncomfortable.

But seriously. This began when I was at a church whose worship was not at all about the people around us and what the expectation or tradition was, but about the One we were worshipping. It was an inside belief and joy that came out in an outward expression. It looked different for each person, but normally there was some sort of physical expression during the songs.

I learned to sing and dance freely because of my vulnerability before God, not because of perfection. Because we always come before Him with our nothing. Perfection is always just a guise. And God always sees through the act. Why hide? He accepts me as I really am, my ugly mess-ups and all.

I don’t perform before God. I worship.

So, this isn’t really a post about dancing. It’s about vulnerability verses performance.

Recently I’ve been having a breakthrough about how many layers of performance I put over myself when expressing who I am to others. Humor, intellect, experience, talent, transparency. I realize now that it is often just an act to cover up the shame of my full vulnerabilities.

Because if people really knew who I was then they probably wouldn’t love me.

And what’s worse is if they do see me for who I am and then say, “I like you this way.” That’s offensive. I can’t accept admiration unless I’ve earned it.

That fear is the root of all the hypocrisy of performance, that I have to come up with an act that the people I love and respect will love.

But I’m learning… I just need to dance. Trip, step on toes, miss a cue, spin the wrong way, fall. Mess up in every way that I mess up. That’s me. The real me.

And you know what? The best dances are when I’m dancing with someone and we each mess up again and again and it just makes us laugh harder. It means the fear is gone. I laugh and not cry because I’m free. I’m accepted and enjoyed, imperfections and all. And I’m free to accept that acceptance.

You may not dance and are appalled at the thought of moving your feet, hands, hips or other extremities to the beat of the music. Fair enough.

But when will you let yourself be vulnerable? When will you let someone see the real you and be okay with their stark observation, “I like you this way”?