Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Slippery Slope

The year was 1996. I was entering the second trimester of the school year, and money was needed to buy textbooks for classes. But I had none. I had already spent my school money to feed my drug addiction and alcohol cravings. Classes were just starting and assignments were being made. Read these chapters from these textbooks. Write papers and reports. But there were no textbooks, because there was no money, because there was a beast that needed to be fed.

And then a friend told me that I could make some quick cash. Nothing dirty, more artistic. Just a few photographs. Just take off my clothes, do a few decent poses, I could change my name.

At first I laughed, bashful. I could never...

But then another day of class came and went. No books. No assignment to turn in. And the cravings from the beast were becoming painful.

Maybe I could...just a would be quick...and I could call the shots. Nothing dirty.

So I made the phone call, picked the time and place. Took a shower, took a few shots of liquor, grabbed a few changes of clothes, threw back a few more shots, and walked out the door.

I call the shots. Nothing dirty.

The session was a hour long. And he paid me $300. Enough for a few textbooks. And I wanted to just walk away.

Pretend. It. Never. Happened.

I did that a lot back in those days. And I thought I could rationalize my way through it. It paid for my books, and what was the harm, really? It's not like it was porn. Just a few shots of naked poses. Nothing dirty.

Except that it was. It was my body, my precious sexuality, my precious treasure, the temple, put on display for a stranger with a camera. Sold out for a few coins.

And for as much as I thought I could just walk away like it was nothing, I wanted to run and hide, to put on every article of clothing in my closet, just to make sure that everything was covered. There was a sense of shame, and yet I wanted to be tough. So the hard wall that I had built up around my heart got another layer added to it, hardening me even more, protecting an empty shell inside.

So then when a friend told me that I could do that every weekend while dancing, and make about a grand a weekend, I entertained the idea. And every time the beast needed a fix, I entertained the idea. And every time I wrote a hot check to pay for a few groceries (and beer), I entertained the idea. It would be nothing. It might even be a little fun. I could numb myself with some booze and some drugs, and just go dance. Who cares if someone is watching? It would be nothing. I had already put one foot on the slope. What's another?

By God's grace, He loved me before I ever knew Him, and my foot was caught on that slippery slope to not slide down any further. There were some who were crying out on my behalf, long before I ever knew anything about it. He spared me and saved me, and now, His redemptive grace has come full circle.

More women are currently employed in the sex industry than any other time in history. Our culture has glamorized and desensitized the people to that which is sacred and treasured. There are more strip clubs in the US than any other nation in the world, and the sex industry in Tucson, AZ is just downright overwhelming.

There is much shame and secrecy which surrounds this shadowy industry. Many secrets to be kept. Studies that have been done reveal that between 66-90% of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children. Compared to the general population, women in the sex industry experience higher rates of substance abuse, rape and violent assault, STD's, domestic violence, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Fear and distrust holds them captive to the life they know, rather than reaching for the freedom they do not know. Many need a lifeline, but don't know how or whom to ask.

Tomorrow night a community will gather. They will hit their knees and weep on behalf of our sisters in the sex industry. They will cry out on behalf of our brothers, those who are contributing to the system. They will gather on behalf of their siblings, and then two by two, teams will go out as ambassadors of God's redeeming grace, to tell our sisters that we love them, to tell our brothers that they are cherished. These teams will deliver gifts crafted by the hands of a family in longing, selected and prayed over as beacons of Light, and they will stand in the gap, whispering the Savior's Name.

A Lifeline.

Jesus told us that the Shepherd, upon realizing that one of his sheep has strayed, would leave the 99 to go after the one.

We are asking You, Great Shepherd, Go. We are missing our siblings.

Bring my sisters out of darkness and into Your glorious light. Bring her home to the family, and refine us to be nothing but Christ to her. The world has been harsh and cruel, and the enemy has been shouting lies her whole life. Give us hearts that would not judge, and eyes to remember the height from which we fell. Give us tongues that would speak slowly, gently, compassionately, Love. Give us arms that would hold her till the crying stops. And give us patience to hold her more.

Bring my sisters out of darkness. Tell her that's she's beautiful. Tell her how much she's worth. Overwhelm her with the Truth of Your love. Tell her she's not disposable. Tell her she's not worthless. Tell her she's not stupid. Tell her there is someone who cares what happens to her. Tell her, Father, that there is no flaw within her. Tell her, Lord, because it's been a long time since my sister heard Truth. Tell her she's not worthless. Tell her she's worth the blood of Your Son, of the Shepherd who has gone after her. Oh, speak tenderly, as the Lover she's never had.

Tell her that You have come to redeem her from the slippery slope that is taking her life.

Will you join us? Will you pray for the lost? Will you pray for the hurting? Will you pray for the marginalized? Will you prayers for our sisters and brothers? Will you seek them out to show kindness and love?

Because love covers a multitude of sins. And stops the sliding down a dark and dangerous slope.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Could community be the key to radical?

The thing about community is that it is messy. People have baggage, and issues, and hurts, and pains, and the enemy feeds them lies at every turn they take. And people, in their hurt and brokenness, believe the lies, take them to heart, and live their lives based on them, rather than believing the Truth. You see, the Truth isn't shouted. It is gentle, unassuming, quiet. It removes any pretenses or excuses that we may carry with us. It frees us from all things, coming and going.

And so all of us, in our brokenness and bondage, fear each other. Either we are judging or being judged. Some may lash out to protect, believing that there is no one who will stand up for us. Other may hide away fearing the harshness of others. This is what we bring to relationships with each other, and until we discover the reality of grace, towards ourselves and others, communities remain a very safe arm's length away. We hide behind privacy and space, and personal preference. We gather with for Sunday service, maybe another night in the week for a small group, and then go on about our quiet, broken lives the rest of the week. Community happens on our terms. We choose when we want to engage and when we want to be alone. And many times fear can dictate these terms.

We read the teachings of Jesus to feed the poor, and so we send a check in to United Way.
We read that we are to care for the orphans, and so we send our check to Compassion.
We read that we are to visit the sick care for the widows, so we send our check to the foundation that will do this.

And our hands are clean, untarnished by the filthy reality of this life, not scathed by the broken mess of lives that comprise people in a fragile world so far from its Creator. And we can go on about our pristine lives knowing that we have done our part to make a difference.

But the thing about Jesus, was that He was a man of the people. He was a man of relationships. He was a man who would stand beside the adulteress and speak beautiful truths over her. He was a man who would speak life into the dead man before Him. He was a man who broke bread with the people as He taught of God's love and compassion. He demonstrated the compassion He spoke of. He lived it out. His life was covered in the dirt and filth of those whom He came to save. He walked the road with them.
And it was an outrage to the religious leaders. It was an abomination to be seen with the sinners with whom He dined. It was unspeakable to allow such women to touch Him.

It was completely radical. And those around Him took notice.

He was different and the gospel he taught was different than what the world knew.

He was inconvenienced by their sudden appearances. He was delayed by impromptu conversations. He was held up by the cry of someone's heart. And He was compassionate and ever gracious. He did not judge and held no record of sin.

But instead He scribbled something in the dirt which held the attention of the accusers. His gaze caught theirs as He leveled the field, "Let him without sin cast the first stone."

We are all broken, and we have been called to community, true bleed on each other community.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he has need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Is this not what we have been called to? Is this not the example that was set for us? What the early Church did was completely radical, completely against the culture of their day, completely set apart. They pooled resources for the sake of living the vision set forth in Acts 1:8, the vision set for them by Christ himself, of being His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. They gave all that they had to ensure that those among them had what they needed to do what God had called them to do. And they broke bread together. This is mentioned more than once. Community was done on the terms of the community, not on the terms of the individual, when and where he felt like engaging.

Oh how my heart longs to see this come to fruition in our day, to see lives being saved from the hurt and brokenness of a world that does not know Truth, to see numbers added daily because the Truth of God's love and the demonstration of His people living it out is that compelling. Are we that compelling?

A group that is able to come together and get along? A group of the Christians that are able to come together and get along? Now that will get some attention.

There has to be more....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thinking with my mouth open...and fingers moving.

So we are stateside again. Sorry for not checking in sooner. It's been a strange month of readjusting and change. And while change can often times be very good, it remains to be hard. So we are adjusting and reentering a culture that is so different from what we experienced in Africa. And my mind is reeling with convictions and concerns and ideas of the imagination that will only lead me to trouble with many. And yet the gifting that the Spirit has bestowed upon me compels me to speak and share, yet my heart would crumble at the thought of disparaging the beautiful Bride. And so I wonder and pray of where to start, hoping that words of exhortation would move some to action of some form.

Jesus said to His followers, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Those were his parting thoughts, laying out the vision and expectation of the Church. What is the Church to do from here on out?

Be His witnesses. Speak up, testify as to who Jesus is, give evidence of His power.

Be like Him.

The problem is, most of the time, this is reduced to just becoming better people, good people who live with superior standards of morals. They have attained righteousness because they don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, don't cuss, pay their bills on time, are responsible citizens, and are just generally much nicer people.

But I must confess that I have met a lot of really nice people who don't know a thing about Jesus, much less love Him. But they were really nice people and, should they come to confess Jesus, would fit very nicely into most churches that I know.

There are also many who I know who I would never guess are followers of Jesus until I see them at a Sunday morning church service with arms raised in emotional rapture. Where was that emotional rapture a few days ago as they looked down on the homeless person begging on the corner?

If we are called to be set apart, then why do we blend so well? Is my heart so set apart that others would know I am different, that I follow a different Way? Or do I try to blend, go with the flow, not make waves? Do I do what I do because this is how we've always done it so it must be the way it is done? But then, there is the Way, and it's different, radical, set apart, and I am drawn to it.

Here's one of the things that I love about Jesus: He put legs on words that He taught. He didn't just sit around, week after week, meeting with His small group to discuss the ins and outs of the teachings of the Prophets. He was a man of action. When he taught that we are to feed the hungry, He broke bread and fed 5,000. When He taught that we are visit the sick, He raised one from the dead. When He taught that we are to care for the orphans and widows, He reprimanded his disciples as He gathered the littles one unto Himself. When He taught that we are to messengers of compassion, and mercy, He stood up for the adulteress. When He taught that we are to give water to the thirsty, He quenched the thirst of a Samaritan woman who had searched for a lifetime. When He taught us to turn the other cheek, He donned a crown of thorns and laid bare His back for 40 lashes. When He taught us that it is better to give than it is to receive, He gave His life for the salvation of the world.

In the quiet places of my heart, there is a stirring that disturbs the hush. There is a rumble that begs for more. There is an uneasiness that is sure it has missed something.

Isn't there more to this life than going through the motions of Church and becoming a really nice person? What do we do with passages like Matthew 25, where are told very clearly that honoring Jesus means feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, providing housing for the stranger, and clothes for the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned? He did not mince words when He said, "Away from me! I never knew you."

Those words haunt me as I seek Him out.

You know me, right? Am I walking in obedience to you?

And so my heart wonders and imagines. What if we got crazy radical with this obedience to Him?

Oh, mercy, I'm just getting warmed up.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ocean Hopping

We are soon heading to the airport, boarding a plane, and hopping back across the massive ocean that separates our worlds. So many thoughts, so many swirling ideas that are waiting to land, waiting for feet to walk out. Please pray for our journey if you think of us. Traveling for this long with three little people can be very exhausting. We fly out tonight (Friday night by Nairobi time) and don't arrive to Arizona until late Saturday night. Loooooooong journey.

Catch ya on the flip side!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Slower Pace

"Ahh, you have become very fat! Very fat now!"

The whole of his thin, frail frame laughs as he throws his head back in joy, while the men of Western influence chuckle nervously.

“Very fat now!”

He turns to the others and exclaims it again, and the laughter pours forth. Yes, life has been very good to me through the years, full of joys and hurts, tears and laughter, and little hands pull at my skirt. This patriarch of many laughs as he embraces, kisses, and greets all in the room.

It is a large, rectangular sitting room; wooden boards that cover the windows now open wide, allowing the breath of God to blow in and out, and His light is the only source to bring life out of darkness. The old wooden chairs that line the walls around the room tell the stories of visitors past, with dents and chips in the wood, and turquoise cushions peaking out from the shreds of the once brightly colored fabrics that cover them. Beat up wooden tables full of character and years fill the space in the middle of the room.

The walls echo of the lives that have passed through this room, grand and simple. 16 children were born and raised in this place, orphans have been taken in, visitors from afar have felt its welcome, all of their laughter and love now distant echoes in a room that now sits empty most days, save the elders who remain behind. The squeals of granddaughters from afar now awake the quiet memories, their giggles resurrecting the joy for all the years past. As I sit quietly here now and listen, murmurs of meetings, homework, children, laughter, families and life overwhelm my heart. This room has seen much.

And the matriarch stands, in quiet majesty, queen of this home for over 50 years, through births and burials, soft voice carries wisdom dealt out gently, patiently, in a tongue I do not know, this mother in love of mine. The face of this aged woman smiles as a whole as she tends to her man-son, granddaughters trailing behind her step. She serves him his favorite food, after all these years. With joy, she still knows how to make her son smile.
She prays to the God of us all, showing gratitude for years come and gone, for children come and gone, for visitors come and gone, and for the travels that bring them all home again. Wrinkled hands folded, calloused and tough by hard years of exhausting labor in the cools fields of this Kenyan village, the lines around her soft eyes speak of the smiles and squints for a lifetime.

She embodies beauty and grace.

She is clothed in strength and dignity.

She serves us traditional porridge in an old calabash and we drink in the warmth of family and home of his birth.

The brothers gather under the tree, the boardroom of this people, their lines speak of clan strength. Dirty kids chew on sugar cane and enjoy the freedom of spitting out the remains. And we pass the remains of the afternoon in this village out in the bush, the gentle breath of God blowing a breeze of refreshment over our travel-weary souls.

And we are reminded that contented simplicity far outweighs the bustle and noises that would otherwise lure and distract from this plain beauty, and that it is good to be home. 

Linking to beautiful Emily at in the hush of the moon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Burnt Offering

Leviticus 9:24 says:
Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.
If God would come and consume my fat portions, I would certainly shout for joy and fall facedown. Guaranteed.

Just sayin'.

Have a happy Friday, y'all!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hakuna sheda

Hakuna sheda!
No problem!
There are no problems, indeed.
Hakuna sheda.

Horns sound, hoot in a friendly manner,
Alerting rather than cursing.
Cars weave in and out,
on and off the road,
Taxis and buses swerve in and out,
bicycles litter the road,
while pedestrians weave in and out of it all.
And in this disorganized chaos of Africa roads,
There is an understanding of humility,
Of seeing others as more important than oneself.
Hakuna sheda.

Right of way is forfeited,
Hands wave others to pass or cut in.
Intersections are meetings grounds where one slows down and rolls through,
Rather than cruising through with confidence of right of way.
Hakuna sheda

And with the release of fighting for rights
Comes the release of others,
Allowing each to navigate without judging or irritation.
You cannot offend me, 
as I have chosen to not be offended.
Hakuna sheda.

A man’s wisdom gives him patience; 
it is to his glory to overlook an offense.
There is a humility here, in this place,
That is unmatched anywhere else.
And I am learning the way of
Hakuna sheda.

Linking up to Emily at in the hush of the moon. Stop by for some amazing poetry.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Coming Down from the Mountain

There is a stirring, a discontent. No, discontent isn't the right word. I cannot put my finger on it. A restlessness that I cannot define. 

We go home in 9 days. 9 days before we return to life stateside, to grocery stores and farmers' markets, preschool, Chipotle, girlfriends, walls and fences, rights and privilege, hot showers, reliable electricity, driving on the left side of the road, car seats, abundance, abundance, abundance.

9 days. Have I learned what You brought me here to teach? My eyes have been opened to MANY, many things, but I am slow to learn. My head is slow and heart is stubborn.

9 days. What I have heard, what I have seen throughout the past four months have been incredible lessons in community, what it is and how to live it. In grace; this has always been an ambiguous, churchy word to me, but I have seen it lived out and now know that it is much harder, and much more freeing than I ever imagined. In humility, which apparently I knew nothing about. It is freeing to know, and believe, that there is One who speaks on my behalf, yet incredibly hard to not open my mouth and fight. Learning to ask the questions, "Does it matter? Will this glorify God?"

Community, grace, humility.

There are things in my own life that I know must change, steps that I have taken that have hindered my growth, slowed my faith walk. Finding your way back to the path of God can be challenging, but He has promised that those who seek Him are sure to find Him. And so I seek, grasp, cry out, and know that He will answer.

I want to pray throughout the day, even fixed-hour prayer. I want to be sure to give You thanks before bites go into the mouth, because my eyes have seen and my heart has loved many who do not have such privilege. They have faces and names, bodies that I have held. They are not strangers to me, and I do not want to forget their plight, or the One who provides for us all. I want to be in the habit of feasting on the real Bread of life several times each day, and not when crisis or concern strikes, as that is what will nourish and grow me through all seasons. I want these things not for the sake of being a "better" Christian, but for the sake of knowing You more, walking more closely with You, living out this Christ-life and actually looking more like Christ. I want these to define my life with passion and energy, without becoming mindless routines.

Somehow, this status quo isn't enough. There is a void that has to be filled and my habit and flesh tendency would fill it with worldly things, such as food, or shopping, or just making myself busier to fill that void. But I have learned enough to know that those things don't fill the void, but only ease the pain of it for a short, short time. Here I have not had access to those "drugs" and so God has revealed Himself in mighty ways, as the Comforter and the One who heals.

How can I be truly set apart when my life feels so ordinary, so much like everybody else? How will anyone know anything about Jesus by looking at my life?

I have seen short-term mission teams come and go throughout the summer, so alive, passion burning. They are intentional and focused, set apart for a short season to proclaim the goodness of God. And I too have been a part of such a team, and remember standing at the mountaintop, bold for my Savior, wildly in love and wanting all in my path to receive His blessings of peace and life. But I cannot help but wonder, what happens when this short season ends and life goes back to normal? My summer began with a team, moving from village to village, but when the team left and everyday life resumed of raising up my family of little people, the excitement and passion of a focused purpose quickly waned. Daily trips to the market for food for dinner, sibling squabbles, diapers, upset tummies, temper tantrums replaced travel and interaction and being seen as important, relevant, needed.

And I wondered, "How now, will they know that I am His?"

When you travel with a mission team, life is a bit different. The standard is set a bit higher and everyone feeds off of each other, for better or worse, and the spiritual air is thick with anticipation of God's movement. With the demands of the mission field, it is know that one cannot survive a day, at least not well, without full reliance on the guidance, grace, and mercy of the Holy Spirit. There is much more reliance. There has to be.

And then seasons shift drastically and the excitement of work well done becomes the mundane of routine. And someone says with the best of intentions, "Just give it some time, and everything will go back to normal."

And somehow it always does, except that it is never quite the same ever again because I'm trying to fit all that my eyes have seen and my heart has absorbed into a box that wasn't prepared for such things. And it just doesn't fit.

What happened when Moses had to come down from the Mountain so beautiful and face so radiant, and deal with bickering, rebellious siblings, and squabbling families, and the chores of keeping the people focused long enough to not build golden calfs and call them god?

He threw his tablets on the ground and stomped his feet in anger.

Yeah, I know that feeling.

How do the passions keep from becoming mere smoldering coals?
Is it that we are to be set apart for a mere short season, a 10-week short-term trip, or set apart for life, day-to-day life lived out in sacrifice and humility and community? And in the "normal" day-to-day of life, what is my role in seeing that the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given water, the orphans are cared for and the widows are loved? What is my role in creating and contributing to community, that they may know that we are one?
And how do we do that when we are all seeking to move away from others, with walls that separate us to preserve our privacy and personal space?

I dont' want everything to go back to normal. I want the radical obedience and wild passion of following Jesus. I just need to know what it looks like.

As we are preparing for the journey back to the states, these are the questions I am struggling with, praying for discernment.
How now shall we live? For the next 9 days, I am pondering this with intensity.

What about you? What are your thoughts on community and humility and grace towards others? 

I have more thoughts to share on those things soon. They are a tornado in my heart right now, moving too fast to make any sense. Hopefully the winds will die down soon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Touching Base

So, I haven't been around the blogosphere quite as much this past week or so. Today marks two weeks left in Kenya until we fly back to the states, so we have been trying to make like tourists and soak up as much of what we can do around Nairobi as possible. So we visited the Karen Blixen museum and coffee plantation. For those not familiar, she is the author of "Out of Africa," which became a movie in 1985 with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Good movie, actually, if you haven't seen it.
We visited the elephant orphanage and had fun watching the silly elephants nurse from bottles. Toria was bored within a few minutes though and ready to move.
So, while we enjoy our remaining time in Kenya, I will try to post some photos so you can see too. Here are some for starters.

Elephant orphanage
African sister love
Always in motion

Spying the elephant in the bush

Peaceful as a flower...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

That a Girl!

"Look at me, mommy!"

"Mama, look over here! Watch this!"

"Mommy, watch me jump over this!"

These were the shouts that I heard all morning as the girls played on the jungle gym, jumping from the end of the slide, swinging on the monkey bars, climbing up the chain ladder. I smiled as I took in their joy, heart warmed by their play. I was struck by their desire to be seen, for their achievements to be noticed.

"Mommy, are you watching?"

They would stand at attention at the end of the platform, readied in position to launch themselves into the sand pit, and yet would pose, waiting until eyes were on them before making the move. Then, launch! And then shoot up like an Olympic gymnast, arms like arrows extended in the air, body straight and stiff, awaiting the applause.


"Bravo! Bravo! Well done! So proud of you! That was amazing! I can't believe you jumped so high!"

The look of satisfaction, joy, success. They accomplished, and then they were praised. They smile big with pride, stand taller, and are bold and confident to do more. And me, their mama, the one who carried and bore them, stand tall with pride and joy to see my angels fly, to see my girls learn and grow and accomplish through courage. I am so proud of them.

"That's my girl! Well done!"

They have so much to learn, and everyday is an opportunity for growth. They are learning how to interact with each other, learning how to love selflessly, learning how to forgive and make amends. They are learning what it looks like to love Jesus, and everyday is an opportunity to learn more. And I am more proud of them everyday. Not every moment is perfect, and there is still much to learn, but their journey has begun, and my prayer is that Jesus is more real to them and more alive in their lives than I have ever experienced.

And then I just wonder about our Father, the One who has birthed us all by the workings of His mighty hands and the beauty of His own imagination. And I wonder about the Son and how He came to show us a new way, The Way. His teachings were so against the mainstream, so counter-intuitive. He taught us to turn the other cheek, and it sounds altruistic and beautiful on paper, but living it out makes the flesh cringe. He taught us to forgive quickly, and it sounds noble on paper, but then the heart rages against offense and wants to get even. And He taught us to forsake the things of this world, to be sure that the hungry are fed, and the orphans are cared for, to be sure that the poor are looked after. And then we begin to question and squirm, and look for technicalities, and justify taking care of ourselves first.

He taught us how to fellowship with those who do wrong, those who are immoral, and how to speak life and exhortation into such as those, but our lives are so full and so righteous. He taught us how to live in selfless community, looking for the God-image in all, restoring the Father-dignity that the evil one has stripped, but our to-do list must get done and we just don't have time. And what we have worked for, we have worked very hard for, and I like my privacy and my space, and the simple, counter-intuitive, counter-cultural teachings of Jesus become muddled and grey and watered down till the fire in my heart has been simmered into a slightly smoldering coal with barely an orange tint to it.

But then there are voices crying out in the wilderness, prophets in their own day, those who are speaking the stirrings of their heart, seeking out the voice that will guide them in obedience. There are visionaries who are risking it all, and those who are willing to step out. There is a stirring taking place, and quiet revolution seeking to bring Heaven to this broken pit. I have seen their hearts, those who are no longer content with the status quo of a system set in place by tradition or routines. Those who are no longer willing to do what they do simply because this is what we do. There is a quiet stirring, those who are questioning.

If we are told that the picture of the Church is a community that is willing to sell all their earthly possessions and come together, meeting each others' needs completely, are we as the Church not held to the same standard?

If we are told that the picture of grace is a body of people who have set aside their rights and are willing to put the needs of others before their own, are we not held to the same standard?

I just wonder about the ways of the Father, when we get ahold of a lesson, when we share our food with the hungry, or open our doors to someone in need of a roof over their heads, I just wonder if the Father doesn't smile over us.

"That a girl! Now you've got it."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Story: On Becoming an Empty Shell

**This is the next installment of His Story: My Life. If you have missed the earlier portions of the story, please feel welcome to slip over here to see all that has gone before.**

I feel compelled to add a warning of sorts to this particular part of the story, a preface to what is coming. Let me preface it this way:

In America, 1 in every 6 women has been the victim of rape. 1 in 6. Do you know 6 women? Odds are, you know someone who has suffered through this atrocity.

Currently in the US, every 2 minutes, someone is sexually assaulted. Every. 2. Minutes.

Do these numbers astound you? They should.

And the effects?

Victims of sexual assault are: 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from PTSD, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

How ‘bout them numbers?
1 in 6.
Every. 2. Minutes.
3. 6. 13. 26. 4.
Times more likely to have a life in ruins. Absolute shambles.

That’s the general reality. Now here was my reality.

I don’t think the reality of that disgusting four-letter word really sunk in until a few days after the event. There was a hollowing numbness that had begun to creep in, almost immediately, a battle between what was reality and what was merely a horrific nightmare, and somehow, in my mind, if I could make it all just a horrific nightmare, then it wasn’t real. It didn’t really happen. And the heart began on a slow journey of death that would leave nothing more than a black lump of coal in my chest. I was working on a new reality.

It started with a really, really, really long, very hot shower. Scrubbing, weeping, scrubbing, red, raw skin, more scrubbing. If I could just get that filthy feeling off, out, away. More soap, more scrubbing, clawing, rubbing, more soap, till all that was left was raw, exposed nerve endings, skin that bled in the heat of the water, and a heart that bore a bruise that would not heal and could not be comforted. The pain and humiliation and shame were all too much to bear.

Whenever I closed my eyes, I saw them. I could smell the cigarette-stained hand that muffled my screams for help and held my head in place. I could feel the death grip on my hands, binding them above my head, out of reach to fight and protect. I could hear the sneers and evil laughter of the ones watching, like a hyena’s cackle. Vile and disgusting, as my strength was not enough to protect myself, and my cries of “NO!” fell on deaf, evil ears. And so he had his own selfish, revolting way with that which did not belong to him.

And my world fell apart.

And when he was done, they threw me in the back of the truck, and drove back into town, even dumped me outside of the front gate of my house, and drove away with their squeals ripping the night air apart.

Tell me it didn’t happen.

No one ever has to know.

What does it really matter, anyway?

A few nights later, I met a “boyfriend” at the pizza joint down the road from my house. I wasn’t straying far, and it was the first that I had gone out since my world was turned upside down. We ate pizza, little conversation, and then we drove me home. As we sat in his truck, just outside of my house, he leaned over and said to me, “I heard about what happened the other night.”

“You heard?”

“Yea, and just so you know: it’s cool if you want to be a slut.”

“what?” It was barely a whisper at first gasp, disbelief knocking the wind out of me. And then picked up force. “What did you just say?”

“I’m just saying, if that’s what you want to do, it’s cool.”

“I said NO! Over and over and over again! I screamed it. I cried it. I said NO!”

“Whatever, slut. Get out of my truck.”

Looking back on that day now, I wonder if it was visible, the walls that went up. I wonder if someone looking at me from the outside could see the hardening process take place, because it was almost instantaneous. Walls, like Fort Briggs, shot up around my hard, creating a shell of the former me. In that moment, I decided I could tell no one, because no one would believe me. I just heard it. He didn’t believe me, that I fought, that I struggled to get free. He didn’t believe me, but blamed me, labeled and insulted me.

And I could not call my family on another continent and tell them what happened. What if they didn’t believe me? What if they blamed me? What if they got angry or called me names? I couldn’t bear it. There was just too much shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and filth. Stripped of dignity, stripped of strength, I vowed to rebuild my strength on absolute protection.

I could tell no one.

But in order to quiet the painful reminders, to shut the heart up in all its brokenness, to silence the hatred of self, it would require outside intervention. And an addiction is ushered in. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Story: The Ecuador Year, Part 2

**This is the next installment of His Story:My Life. To catch up on the first portions of the story, feel free to jump over here.**

The Dream to the Nightmare

I lived with 3 different families for that year in Ecuador, and the first two were in the small coastal town of Portoviejo. My first family had a set of twin girls who were around the same age as me. I cried for the whole first month that I lived in Portoviejo, overwhelmed with homesickness and never being able to understand what was being said to me, or about me. I think that sweet little family thought there was something seriously wrong with me, and when they spoke to me, they would raise their voices a few octaves, just short of shouting at me, as if the lack of comprehension was a hearing problem rather than a language problem. I tried to explain, in my broken, broken Spanish, with several pauses for flipping through my dictionary, that I just didn’t understand the vocabulary yet, and so then they began to speak as if in slow motion. I understood and appreciated the intent, but it really didn’t help, as then everything sounded funny and weird and loud.

After a month or so of living with that first family, it was decided that it just wasn’t a very good fit, and I was moved in with a new family, a little more in town and little less loud. This family had only one daughter who was a year younger than me, and turned out to be a lovely host sister. We became friends quite quickly, and she was determined to help me learn to speak. I think she was very excited to have a sister, and she and I got into lots of trouble together.

When school started, I was taken to the seamstress to have my uniform made, which was a humbling experience altogether. I come from German-Scottish roots, which does not produce fragile people, for the most part. And compared to the smaller frames of Ecuadorians, I was quite the giant. So as I am being measured for my skirt, which was like a turquoise checkered picnic blanket, the seamstress mentioned that I was quite the “gringota” and would require much fabric. Sigh. Gringota.

I was learning the intricacies of the Spanish language, and seeing that you could tack an adjective on to the end of end of any word. So I was often referred to as “gringa,” which simply means “white girl,” but by adding “-ota” onto the end of it, I was now “big white girl.” There were three other Americans living in Portoviejo at the time with the same program that I was in. They were small and cute and were lovingly referred to as “gringitas,” the “-ita” making the white girls small. I liked the term gringita. It sounded dainty and sweet. It sounded like something you would say in a high-pitched voice to a baby, or endearingly to a cute little girl, while gringota sounded like a word that would boom out of the mouth of the giant at the top of the bean stalk. The other girls on the team, they were gringitas, but me, I was gringota. And now a gringota with a turquoise checkered picnic blanket wrapped around my waist. Lovely.

So school started, which was quite a shock to the system. It was an all-girls’ school, each one in her turquoise checkered picnic blanket. The classrooms were lined up next to each other, forming a large square of classrooms with a spacious courtyard in the middle of them all. The courtyard has a grassy area on one half and a basketball court on the other with cracked cement, old wooden backboards and rims with no nets. I wondered about the basketball court, given the apparent lack of height to the overwhelming majority of Ecuadorian girls, but maybe it was just something that was a standard part of schools.

My host sister and I would wander into the courtyard in the morning, waiting for the bell to ring signaling the beginning of class. My host sister was more like a rock star in those days, showing off her gringota, and all the little girls of the school would crowd around and press in with too many questions, their long dark hair pulled back so tightly into ponytails that their eyes were lifted up into Asian accents. They would all giggle as I struggled to comprehend what they were saying, pausing them every few words to thumb through my trusty pocket dictionary with frayed edges and tattered corners. I didn’t understand most of what they said in those days, but they quizzed about my old school, and my family and friends in the states, trying to get a picture of what my home was like.

Then the school bell would ring and squeals would fill the courtyard as chaos ensued and girls ran to their classrooms with no windows and no doors. We stayed in the same classroom all morning long, and sometimes a teacher showed and sometimes no one showed up for hours. So the scene from the courtyard would continue in the classroom right up until a teacher showed up and sent everyone to her own seat.

It was interesting taking classes in a Spanish all-girls’ high school, and most of the classes I had already taken in the states and most of the material I already knew because I was a teacher’s pet. But it was fun to learn that organic chemistry is essentially exactly the same in Spanish as it is in English, and that made it fun, assuming organic chemistry can be considered fun.

So we would spend our morning sitting in our one classroom, waiting and wondering if a teacher was going to show up for this hour, and then we were excused for the day at lunchtime. I really loved this part of their culture. The entire family would arrive at home for a massive lunchtime feast, and then lay down for an afternoon siesta before returning to work.

For us, the end of lunch signaled beach time, so we would hop onto a taxi bus, again with no window and no doors, and make our way to the nearby beach, where we would spend the rest of the day playing in the waves and dumping back cervezas at the local bar called Topless. We would show up at the house briefly in the evening for a light dinner with family and then meet friends in town for more frolicking foolishness.

It really was a pretty good gig for a rebellious teenager, where it seemed we could really do whatever we liked. And right up until the heinous happened, I felt like I was living the high-life. But then there was a night that we went out, and I made the grave mistake of staying behind when my girlfriend said it was time to go. I told her I would be fine, as I was there with friends, and I was sure that they would take me home. And I shot back another swig of Cana Manabita which was more like firewater than anything and burned liked flames to old planks of wood as it traveled down my throat. And she kept asking and urging and I kept telling her that I would be fine because I knew all the guys there and I would be leaving shortly anyway, I just wasn’t ready quite yet.

Oh but if I had been ready. If I had gotten up, set the firewater down and slurred out a goodnight to all there. If I had walked away with my girlfriend that night, rather than staying, continuing to throw back shots of firewater, how different my life would have looked. That night changed everything. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Story: Ecuador Year, Part 1

**This is the next installment of His Story:My Life. To catch up on the first portions of the story, feel free to jump over here.**

Just Getting There Was an Adventure

I have avoided writing this chapter. If you could have seen the skillful procrastination techniques that have gone into the avoidance, they might have impressed you, or saddened you. To put into words all that happened in that one pivotal year is, to some degree, to have to walk through it, yet again. It no longer shatters me, as many, many years have passed since this one pivotal year in my life, but to spell it out is vulnerable and slightly scary. I had a counselor, for a short time, who asked me to write about what happened down there in that small South American country. She knew my love of writing and thought that it might be helpful for me to express, through my love of words, what took place. Oh how I hated her for that. She tainted my gift with ugly words, and I hated the words that spilled out, evil that oozed, and I wrote it for her, forming into creation on paper the sin that took place, but then stopped going to sit in her office and allow her to pick open my heart; and then I stopped writing. For years. It was all just too ugly, seemed unredeemable. 

But the year that I lived in Ecuador wasn’t all bad, and it’s important to remember that there were some very beautiful things that happened there, some wonderful friends were made there, who, thanks to the power of facebook, have recently reconnected with. Some very fun times were had while I lived there. I’ll start there.

I spoke a small amount of Spanish, four years worth of Spanish class in junior high and high school, only to realize that I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to put together a full sentence in Spanish, but could recall a few vocabulary words, which weren’t really that helpful. But when the day arrived to leave, my folks had driven my to New Orleans to pick up the flight, and gave tearful, fearful goodbyes right up until I boarded the plane. We had a layover in San Jose, which turned out to be about 8 hours longer than the scheduled one-hour layover, and I remember sitting on the blue short carpet that was full of dirt and smelled of old cheese. I sat in this small, foreign airport, kicking myself for packing my fat, little pocket dictionary in my suitcase rather than carrying it on with me, searching frantically for a white face, someone who might speak the same language as me and yet have a clue as to what was going on and why we weren’t boarding the plane at the scheduled time.

I found a large group of people who appeared to be waiting for the same flight, and so casually slipped into their group and followed them in line, right up until I realized that they were actually leaving the airport and getting on a bus. Panic ensued and I began barking at anyone I could about whether this was the group waiting for the flight to Guayaquil. Everyone I saw said yes and I was sure that it was a communication error, but was herded onto the tourist bus nonetheless.

To this day, I do not know if the tour was arranged by the airline or airport or the city or who, but the whole lot of us who were waiting for the flight to Ecuador were given a wonderful tour of the exotic city of San Jose, Puerto Rico, winding down narrow streets laced with enchanting flowers the size of my head. We stopped at a hotel where we were served an amazing lunch, and I didn’t understand what was happening or what was being said, but just went with the herd and hoped beyond hope that we would eventually land back at the airport. We did, eventually, land back at the airport and before I knew it, the plane was in the air and we were on our way to Ecuador.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Salt of the Earth

This is a follow-up post (#3) to a series on "Salt." To read the first two passages, feel welcomed to visit here and here. Thank you for stopping by. Karibu tena (Welcome again).

Our mornings in Kenya are ushered in with the giggles of waking girls to brilliantly painted African sunrises and traditional Kenyan tea, the sweet aroma of milk boiling, tagless tea bags steeping on the burner in the old aluminum teapot that spits out drops of tea like a camel spitting at tourists who get too close. The milky brown joy is then poured from the state of bubbling bliss into a deep blue thermos, where it remains piping hot until being poured out like an offering into the waiting altar of mugs. It is the custom of the Kenyan morning. If there is nothing else, there is tea.

I gingerly sip on my second cup for the day, having jaunted to the market in between the first and second. As I am chopping the vegetables that will escort the softening beans for dinner, my teacup sits faithfully next to me on the counter, steam twisting and dancing toward the heavens. I think of worship and being salt and being alive in Christ, reveling in the freedom that only He provides, pondering all that the freedom has done for me, wondering how now I shall live for the freedom, all the while curling the fingers under the bell peppers so as to not chop off the tips.

My hands are stained with the perma-scent of fresh cut purple onion and marvelous cloves of pungent fresh garlic, as that seems to be a staple of most everything that is prepared in this kitchen. Into the pan, chopped pieces of crystal-colored onion with a deep royalty clothing the outside. Bits of garlic cling to it as a true BFF, that they may go through the fire together.

Mark 9:49 says, “Everyone will be salted with fire.”

I ponder this phrase as I light the fire under the vegetables for a quick sauté, the sizzling of the oil and browning of the veggies telling a story of their own.

We will be tested, sprayed and dashed with fire at different points in our walk. If we are to become the salt of the earth, as Matthew 5:13 says, then some refining has to take place so that we are of good flavor to our surroundings, and not spoilers.

Bell pepper, onion, garlic, and a dash of olive oil over the blue-orange flames of the burner create an aroma that is inebriating. The lungs expand fully, taking in the scent of a meal worthy of royalty. After the veggies have reached the perfect shade of golden brown, they are dumped into the pot of half-softened beans, along with diced carrots, a healthy dash or two of cumin, and a generous sprinkling of salt over the top. Tenderly stir it all together to allow the salt to pull out the very best of all that has been thrown together. That is what salt does.

When we enjoy the feast in the evening of all that has simmered throughout the day, it is not the salt that is applauded. Nobody comments on how wonderfully salty the salt is, but rather how delicious the beans are, how the vegetables and spices have combined so beautifully, how the garlic is so rich, how the carrots are so sweet, how the soup is perfectly flavored. Nobody comments on the salt. But if it is missing, it is surely noticed, as one by one, hands reach for the shaker resting in the middle of the table.

Shake, shake, shake, shake….slurp the soup…roll on the tongue….not quite there…shake, shake, shake…tongue dips to soup, roll around….perfect.

The beans are divine!

When the salt is present, when the right amount has been added, the brilliant flavors of others are brought out enhanced. The entire lot shines because the salt has done its job, without reward or mention. Its humble station is to lift others up and make them better.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

You, dear sister, dear brother, are called to be the salt of this rock; the seasoning that brings out the best in all those around you; the flavor that needs no recognition on its own other than to see all those who know you be built up and blessed to the fullest potential.

It is a humble lot to work for the betterment of others, without craving applause. But we have been called to be the salt. When we are missing, when we have not shown up in the humility and servanthood that was demonstrated for us, it is noticed. It is felt. It might not be verbalized, but the hearts have recognized that the salt is not there.

Shake, shake, shake, shake…toss a warm, friendly smile at a hurting soul…see the eyes lift at the thought of being seen by another….shake, shake, shake, shake…touch the arm of the homeless woman asking you for money…see the hardened shell crack at the power of a gentle human touch…shake, shake, shake…send an encouraging note to sister on your heart...see a heart encouraged to persevere in difficult times...shake, shake, shake...cook dinner for a family experiencing hard times and drop it off anonymously...see a family giving gratitude to the Maker for providing...shake, shake, shake...see your world seasoned with love and kindness.

When the salt is there, in gentleness, in humility, in quiet servitude, not seeking self exaltation, but longing to see the hearts of others lifted, when the salt is there, it may not be called out in recognition or gratitude, but it is noticed. It is felt. And the Father is ever glorified.

You are the salt of the earth.

How are you flavoring your world?

Today I am linked up to wonderful Beth's site, I should be folding laundry, who challenged us this week to capture "in the kitchen" photos. Hop over to check out some really stunning photography. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Bride

Words are too easily spoken, 
in haste, in anger, in foolishness;
creates division and assumptions.
Where words are many,
sin is not far behind.

And there was one 
who sent a message to the groom,
Disparaging the bride.

The audacity, the bold-crass move of
Tearing down the bride
to the covenant bridegroom,
Cutting down perceived faults
Launching arrows of half-truths based on
inadequate knowledge
And perceived judgments.

Going to the groom to tear down the beloved bride.
What sort of evil does this?

But my heart too has unleashed disdain for another’s Bride,
Her brokenness and faults apparent in such human ways.

My heart has criticized her fleshly manners,
and the hurt has welcomed bitterness,
which always leave the door open for resentment.
Unsuspecting expectations sprawl out in disappointment;
The lofty standard of holiness left in unattainable air.

This Bride is fallen and not as perfect as her beautiful Groom,
And so it has been held against her.

Judge not my Bride,
for She is my body.
She is my love,
and the One for whom I have already
spilled my blood.

How His heart must ache when we, His children,
speak ill of His beloved,
speak ill of each other.

And yet the Bride is called to be one,
Christ glorified,
Father magnified,
Prodigals stupefied,
As they gaze in wonder and awe.

What sort of evil tears down the Bride to her Beloved?
The evil lurks in my own heart,
While repentance has served its eviction notice.

This is an early link up to beautiful Emily's blog, in the hush of the moon. Be sure to stop by there Thursdays for some amazing poetry.