October Rain

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“The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

 This is true.

 Only, when the rain falls on the unjust, we don’t feel it as much. It perhaps doesn’t look or feel like rain as much as karma. But, when the rain falls on the just, the delightful, beautiful souls that flavor life with salt and illuminate it with light… the clouds are heavy and the rain beats hard.

 October has been a grieving month for me for 12 years. I have missed and mourned one precious soul that inspired and motivated me to live intentionally and deeply the love of Christ. Her death marked a change in me. Her funeral served as a pep rally for the rest of my life. The void Aimee left demanded my fulfillment, and I would never be the same. Really. I remember leaving that memorial service, packed out with lives touched by her gentle and sometimes awkwardly large hands, knowing that the world had lost a powerful presence.

 I went home, picked my baby up out of her crib, and cradled her to my chest and cried. I had no answers. I felt just as fragile and dependent before God as the child I held. In some way I wanted to physically attend to her the way I needed Daddy God to spiritually attend to me. And as I rocked her, as I poured out my tears before a God that promised to capture each one, I watched the rain.

 There is no rain today, but the clouds are grey.

 Yesterday marked the death of another distinguished light, Sister Gussie.

 Cancer was her nemesis. Actually, that’s just the name for the battle of her final foe. To say that it overtook her is to declare her non-victorious, and I refuse to say that about my friend. Even as I close my eyes, I can hear her dear raspy voice – praying for me, encouraging me, speaking to my heart the lessons her older heart had learned so well.

 She taught me that weakness isn’t failure. She taught me that wrestling with depression isn’t being unfaithful to God. She taught me that whatever the season – be it stay-at-home mom of nursers and ankle-biters to a full-fledged minister traveling and pouring out more of yourself than you feel you can give – there is worth in it all. She lived it out faithfully – the silent and stalwart soul mate of a man that she loved unashamedly and sacrificially.

 In death, we have two choices, we can grieve and mourn these losses and relegate them to a memory, or we can see the void and commit to be a part of the legacy of living. We can see the rain as the lack of sunshine, or we can see it as the conditions that precede any rainbow. And, some days we might feel both… and that’s okay. Sister Gussie taught me that, too.

 Today I mourn. I allow my soul the chance to long for more time, more conversations, and more lessons that I cannot have. Again, my tears resemble rain, and I trust my Father is collecting them. My world is missing these two bright lights. But when the clouds of grief clear, my celebration of them will be to continue…to shine brighter, to love deeper, and to give more generously to make up for the voids that they have left behind.

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The Flip Side of Poverty

We see them – vagrants living on the streets, asking for handouts, and bumming rides. We judge them as runaways, addicts, alcoholics, or panhandlers. We rarely see little more than dirty clothes, mussed hair or the cardboard signs they carry. We might be bothered if we are stopped to hand them a crumpled up dollar bill from our wallets, or the considerate and those that think ahead, may have on hand a bag of toiletries and snacks or gift cards to local fast food joints. Then, their are the spiritually considerate that might hand them nothing more than a tract, with a word of encouragement. None of those things are wrong, exactly…but is it enough?

 More and more people are finding themselves homeless and in abject poverty. Did you know that 633, 782 people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night? That is a lot of people. And whereas, some of those people have chosen it by choosing drugs over shelter, the majority of them are simply homeless due to bad circumstances and tough breaks. I was talking to a friend of mine who has been living on the streets off and on since she was fifteen, and she admitted that even in government or state funded shelters there is no sense of security or safety. In fact, within 48 hours of street life, they are solicited for sexual acts…if it takes that long. And, some choose it. Because if one sexual favor means the difference between sleeping in the alley way or paying a few dollars to sleep in a shelter, to them, it might be worth it. This then makes them prime candidates for trafficking, and their problems just got a whole lot worse.

 I can’t imagine that choice, that feeling of fear and insecurity, the inability to really relax. But, being the thinker and imaginative soul that I am, I allowed myself a look at how easily that might happen to me and to my girls:

 Right now we are doing quite well. My husband has a good job and provides for us well, but in one split second my husband could die, and without his thinking ahead to provide life insurance, within a few months we could go from middle class to homeless. That fast. When you consider that one third of his paycheck goes to mortgage and then the other two thirds go to feed and clothe us, that money will dwindle quickly. Just a couple of late payments or missed payments and rejected calls from collections agents, we could found our house foreclosed on, our savings stripped and left with no other choice but to take to the streets. For us, it would take months. For some, it would take weeks.

 My friend I mentioned found herself on the streets when she was a teenager. Her mom was an alcoholic and her step dad was a pervert. One night she had a choice, she could roll over and give him what he wanted or she could hit the streets. With tears in her eyes and just enough clothes as would fit in an oversized bag, she chose the streets. She begged her mom to take her back, but her stepdad had already concocted a story that made her look like a whore and without the mental capacities to choose correctly, her mom refused her request. Her grandmother took her in for a while, but soon she passed away, and my sweet friend, again, was found to be helpless and homeless. She has not only been mugged multiple times, leaving her with a fear of having anything worth any value or money in any quantity, but she has been a witness to some of the most violent assaults that have forever left her fearful and haunted. Tragic. Perhaps even more tragic is she is one of thousands.

 On one of our meetings, I took her to the food stamp office. You know, the place that so many look down on unable to see beyond the masses that take advantage of it? The truth is, it does provide help. But, after sitting down with an elderly man, eager for food and desperate for help, I realized it’s increasingly difficult for the uneducated, unadvancing, and illiterate. As I walked away 45 minutes later, no further in the process than when he asked, my heart hurt for him…what hope did he have? I remember one day while mentoring at a local charitable organization, a woman was sitting in a corner, deep in thought, heavily burdened. I placed my arm around her and asked what was wrong. With big, sad eyes she said, “My baby is getting made fun of.” She had all of my attention. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between feeding my kids or washing their clothes… and lately all I can do is feed them.” She didn’t have to say any more. I know kids. I know their cruelties. But she was right, I didn’t understand her pain, not fully.

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There is a flip side to poverty. Humanity. There aren’t just poor. They are people with fears, insecurities, and dreams. We dismiss them because we don’t know their stories, we don’t feel their pain. We judge them based on heresay and speculation and prejudice. They are humans with souls and hearts, and each one of them from the addict begging for the next hit to the struggling single mom has a story. But, that requires getting out of our comfort zone. Knowing those stories is more work than handing out a baggie or a tract or few dollars. Because, if you get to know them, you might see that they need more. They might let you in to that well-guarded untrusting heart of theirs, and then you will be compelled to do something.

 What you can’t see this side of poverty, the side that we sit comfortably on with our cell phones and laptops with cold iced water in a glass, is that some of those “hopeless” souls know more about God and His love and provision then you and I will ever have to face. Some of them don’t have a clue about love, any love, or provision or hope or God. We can’t afford to ignore either of them – every soul deserves to be seen, even the unlovely.  I once heard, “People aren’t unlovely because they are unlovable, but because they are unloved.” I wonder, the imaginative hopeful side of me, if there were more loving, would there be less poverty. It’s just a thought, but grounded in Christ and living out His example, love is abundance.

 One of the most touching statements I have heard lately was from my mom whose heart for the hurting I inherited and who has lived out love to the less fortunate all my life. “I hurt for them. I would invite them into my house to stay in a heartbeat. In fact, maybe your dad and I will buy a trailer and set it up for just that reason.” I love her heart, and I would gladly contribute to that endeavor, and maybe we will, but we cannot house them all, feed them all, clothe them all, or help them all. None of us can save everyone, but all of us can do something – and it starts with loving them.

 

Whatever It Takes – A Look at Human Sex Trafficking

I know we have all seen the red X’s affixed to profiles in social media. The cry to “end it now”‘is echoed throughout the world. Those who are aware of human trafficking are appalled, overwhelmed, and desperate. We want to do something, but what?

The first thing we have to do is see the reality of it.

One story told by Geoff Moore during a concert recently shook me up. He spoke of a recent trip to Haiti. Almost as soon as he got off the plane a woman ran up to him and started pleading with him. She showed him her young daughter, obviously dressed to impress wearing a most likely very costly beautiful red dress, hair fixed and smile plastered. He smiled at the girl and spoke with her, and the woman became desperate! She wept and pleaded and raised her voice. Feeling a little freaked out, Geoff asked his interpreter what she was saying. The interpreter replied, “I don’t want to tell you.” The woman continued on, the interpreter responded to her, and she left. Geoff later discovered that she was begging him to take her daughter. She didn’t know him, but her desperation to see her daughter live drove her to beg a complete stranger to take her because in her mind he was a rich American and could give her a better life. I couldn’t help but think as I heard the story, “What if he weren’t Geoff Moore, Christian artist and song writer?” And then I wondered, “Did another man get the same plea? And is that young girl in the red dress still smiling?”

Whatever it takes.

It’s sometimes those desperate moments and places that take them there – the desire to see more for them that strips them of their freedom and eventually life.

I heard a story of a homeless woman. She had found shelter and help through The Friendship House in New Orleans. She had taken her young daughter, around 3 years old, out to the park which was just across the street. A man was there and was watching her and her daughter. Then, after commenting on her beauty and no doubt learning a few things about her, casually at first so as not to raise suspicion, he asked, “Could I buy her from you?” The woman was appalled. She grabbed up her baby and ran the distance back to The Friendship House and told the missionary there what had happened. But, what if The Friendship House wasn’t there? What if the mom, instead of finding help through a local ministry was desperate? Where would her daughter be now?

Whatever it takes.

That’s what the predators think, too. They aren’t all randomly walking the streets for desperate souls and pretty faces, many of them start with friendship.

The 18 year old that befriended her on Facebook seemed to legitimately care about her. The more he talked to her the more she could see that her parents really didn’t have time for her or want her around. He promised her hope and love and companionship, something her 16 year old heart desired. He told her he was passing through town and would love to meet. Why wouldn’t she? She was already sharing her heart and emotions, and he could be trusted. Even after he met her and took her phone and got her a tattoo and changed her looks, she still trusted that he was going to take care of her… As long as she gave him what he needed. Luckily, he was wrong. Her parents did care, and they were vigilant, and with the help of law enforcement, they got their daughter back, but she was forever changed.

The second thing we have to do is understand how it happens.

Whatever it takes.

Force.
Fraud.
Coercion.

And there are enough desperate hurting souls out there that get lured in.

Did you know that the homeless are the most at risk? Within 48 hours of being on the streets, they are propositioned for sexual favors and opportunity.

Did you know that the majority of trafficked humans in American are American, and they are also the most trafficked citizens in Mexico, too?

In ten minutes an unobserved and unassuming young boy or girl can be abducted and coerced away from home never to be seen of again.

10 minutes…

Did you know that jons pose as youth group members? Unheard of! Nope. One girl was trafficked for 3 years every Wednesday night all because she trusted a guy in her youth group that was willing to do whatever it took to make money. And she allowed it because she was willing to do whatever it took to protect her family.

It happens. It’s happening. And it’s not just the little Asian or European girls that didn’t know better… It’s our kids. It could be your kid if we don’t wake up.

We are creating a culture that makes it easier and easier. Our jobs keep us from being involved with our teens, from asking them the hard questions, from observing their friends or their classmates. We allow social media to babysit them, and there are many that are counting on you to be unaware and unconcerned.

Until we say “Whatever it takes” it will continue to be an issue, lives will continue to be at risk, and evil will prevail.

Are you aware that this world’s obsession with pornography feeds this sexual atrocity? And yet, even in the church we want to hide it under the rug and use excuses like “every man does it.” Well, it’s not just men obviously… And this sexual human trade relies on you to stay uninvolved or apathetic to its perils. In fact, whenever you pull out your credit card to purchase a movie or look at pictures, your red X statement becomes devoid of meaning because you yourself have helped fund their evil. In fact, most sites are set up to run ads, ads that pay them whether they are clicked on or not, so even if you “look but don’t buy” you have provided money for their crimes. Men? Women? Do you hear this?!

The third thing is we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get involved and take a stand!

Are you willing? Taking a stand can look very different for many of us, but it is necessary. I’ve involved myself because I have seen the urgency! And, you can join me and many others by doing one or more of the following things: You can support homeless ministries or ministries that aid the broken and desperate in order to save them from slavery. Sponsoring children all over the world for $35 dollars a month, keeps food in their bellies and gives them advantages to keep them from being a desperate commodity to sell or trade. You can fund missionaries who are specifically called to go in and rescue and redeem these lost and misused children of God and show them the pure love of Jesus. You can raise funds to contribute to organizations that work to buy back these squandered souls. You can pray for those who daily find themselves in danger because they are doing what they can to put an end to this billion dollar industry. You can pray for those voices that cry out in anguish because they see no hope. You can become educated so that you can in turn educate others to the pitfalls and warning signs that surround this criminal activity. You can rethink how you view prostitutes and the stereotypical judgments of those in the sex industry. A majority of them are there out of necessity, addiction, or coercion, and I haven’t met one yet that is there and doing the unspeakable because they enjoy it. These are just some suggestions… But they can make a difference. What’s God calling you to do?

“Whatever it takes”
…this is the mentality that has trapped them, and this MUST be our passion to see them freed and to end it now!

Directing Squirrels

God spoke to me through a squirrel.

We were coming home from a birthday lunch date with my daddy, and in the middle of the street there was a squirrel. He was pitiful. He was confused and dazed and didn’t know where to go. He’d head one way then circle around another way – going nowhere just spinning. He’d get dizzy so he would lay down his head and then twitch his tail and fight to stand up only to be dazed and confused again. It was one of the saddest things I’d ever witnessed. I wanted to cry, and I told my dad we had to help him. I was desperate to see him be safe!

We went to my house, and I grabbed an old dog kennel. I figured maybe he we could lure him in and release him into a tree. Yes. I wasn’t thinking clearly. After all, my college roommate and I had played momma to a baby squirrel for a few weeks, in my right mind I would have remembered how dangerous a scared and trapped squirrel could be, but all I could think about was the danger it was in, my own didn’t matter.

My dad and I walked over to where we had seen the squirrel, but in just those five short minutes it had taken to get him some help, he’d moved. We weren’t content with that we wanted to know where, so we walked a little and saw a tail twitch at the base of a tree. It was our little squirrel! He was slowly but surely making his way up the tree, to safety. I saw my compassionate dad getting choked up and wrapped my arms around him! My dad leaned his head to mine and said, “I’m glad he made it home.”

God spoke to me later that day. He said “That desperation, that heartache that you felt for that simple squirrel is but a fraction of what I feel as I watch my misguided children spin about dazed and confused with no where to turn. I need you to point them to safety. I need you to make sure they find the tree, the cross, and I’ll Take it from there. Just point them to Me.”

And that’s what we do. Everyday, in a million different ways.. Whether its through Teen Christian Ministries, LeadHer Academy, or writing books, We point to the cross. We are desperate at times! We want to grab them and force them into safety, not wanting to see them face the pain or heartache we have, and we forget that we can’t save them. That’s the hardest truth. We can’t save them. But He can! Only, they have to choose to fight, to shake off the confusion, and find their way to safety. But they have to walk it.. We can’t place them there.

I was pondering this very heartbreak after sharing my squirrel story with my friend, brother and writing cohort, when I was reminded of one of Jesus’ own moments of pain and desperation:

When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” (Matthew 9:36, 37, 38 MSG)

His heart broke! He saw their confusion and their aimlessness and His heart broke. The one that could save them stood amongst them, but what did He say? He turned to the disciples and basically said, “You see that? They need YOU to help them.”

That’s my same hope and inspiration! I can only do so much. I only see so many squirrels..err.. People.. But WE see many.. And if we are willing He would point out so many more! His heart is breaking still at their aimless confusion and desperation, and He addresses us, as He addressed me last week, “I need you to point them to me.. And I’ll take it from there.”

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For the love of them…or us?

I recently read a great article about Toms. The shoes. But more so the real purpose of the company.

It’s a great idea, right? You buy a pair of shoes and they will give a pair of shoes to kids who don’t have them. I’ve seen kids with bare feet and gone on medical clinics to see them treated for hookworm and other things because of it. By golly, I will pay $50 for a pair of canvas shoes for a good cause! Who wouldn’t?

But, the article I read made a point. Even though this is a good cause (it is, no one is disputing that). It’s not really solving any real problems. Why? Because the company works from outside of the countries that are in need. They make the shoes, consumers buy them, and they are delivered to countries that need them. Who feels the best about what they do? The consumer. It’s a company model built around a good cause, but in the end it’s meant to make the consumer feel good about what they buy.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Intrinsically. But it isn’t solving the real problem…the reason the kids don’t have shoes isn’t that they aren’t available. The reason the kids don’t have shoes is that they are in poverty stricken countries where they can’t afford shoes. So, they get shoes. They also get rice and beans from a charitable aid organization, shoe boxes filled with well-meaning gifts once a year, but they are still living in poverty. Have we fixed the problem or have we simply made ourselves feel better?

I’m not saying any of those things are bad. In fact, quite the opposite! They are good things! Don’t stop supporting organizations that help underprivileged countries! They need all the help they can get! But is our help a momentary fix or a solution? That’s all I want to ask.

I recently read a post on my brother’s wall that basically said that sometimes it takes a cold cup of water from a person’s hand before you will accept the Living Water from their hearts. I get that. Meet a physical need to gain access to meet their spiritual need. Christ exemplified that. There is nothing wrong with that. But, the old Chinese proverb holds some truth, too – “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” So the question I’m pondering today is this, in my good deeds am I simply making myself feel better for the day, or will their lives be different?

There is a time and place for every purpose under heaven. Solomon drives that point home. But, there are organizations that are making permanent solutions in war-torn and poverty stricken countries not just momentary fixes but hard core “We see this need and we are going to fix the problem not slap a bandaid on it.” I want to see more of this.

Toms could do more to make a difference, a permanent difference. They could teach the locals how to make their shoes (honestly, it can’t be too hard!). They could buy the canvas, the leather, and the cork from those people, and sell them very cheaply so that the poor make a profit… then those leftovers that don’t sell…they could be given to the kids that desperately need them. That’s just a thought. But the point is, one pair of shoes at a time is only going to last at the most a year. Whereas teaching them how to make the shoes and sell them, that could make a lifetime of difference to ailing countries. Like, Digging wells. This is a permanent solution. This makes a complete and total difference in the areas that get this privilege. We take for granted our easy access to water as we fling another bottle in our purse as we leave the gym, we don’t even think about famine or drought or the fact that the animals bathe and leave waste in the one stream we might share as a village…which is like 3 or more of our subdivisions combined. Organizations and missionaries that teach a trade in order to help villages to support themselves, not to live off of temporary handouts, these people are heros…life savers…fixers. Artists that take their time to teach African women designs for necklaces that they can make and sell to raise money to invest in their families and communities, this is life-changing work. Funding goats and livestock and corn and seed and feed, these are donations that are going to make a failing community prosper! These things will feed and clothe and aid multiple families and pass on hope and knowledge and wellness to the next generation. And, these are just a few roles of amazing organizations from medical to agricultural that are making life-restoring differences!

I will probably still buy Toms. And I hope you will, too. I’m not out to sabotage good works. I just want to ask the question, “Am I doing this for the love of them…or me?” I am not leading a crusade to fight economic injustice; I just want to ask myself the tough questions, the raw questions that get to the quick of my motivation because I want to see their lives changed for the better for GOOD not just for the moment. I don’t want there to be any doubt that the work that is done IS for them and not for me, and that the One that sent me provides not just for a day but for all eternity.

Is this thing on?

I could totally be the “bullhorn guy.” Sometimes I am so filled with love and amazement and passion, not just for my Creator but for His creation, that I want to grab a megaphone, pull up a box (or a stand in a truck bed), and yell at the top of my lungs, “He loves you! He loves you! He loves you!” I’m tempted. Often.

The minute I stepped onto Guatemalan soil that is exactly what I felt. Love. Palpable. And the invitation that Father God placed in my heart echoed with each face I saw. I asked, “Is this Your child? Are these Your children?” And His answer resounded, “All of this is Mine!” Psalm 24:1 spoke into my spirit: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Everyone, everywhere, without exception.

The streets were at once strange and familiar. Growing up overseas, the scene that met us outside the airport wasn’t too different from the bus stations in Korea which I had frequented. There were vendors and beggars and the man without legs scooting himself along on a cart. (This man is in every third world country!) I loved him at once, and the woman with the baby strapped on her chest, the woman trying to get me to buy her handmade necklaces, as well as the indigenous people in their colorful garb and the westernized people in skinny jeans carrying cellphones. I loved them, and I wanted to smile at them and hoped in some supernatural way that God’s love would transfer in that smile to heal their hurt, and calm their fears, and meet their deepest needs!

I don’t know what my face was doing, but my heart was smiling so big I thought it might crack. The fatigue from all day travel and the dull throb in my ever-aching back disappeared with the expectation of what God was going to do! I was believing Him for some big things, and I was hopeful that I would be used to do His work in a mighty life-changing way. My expectations…of what I wanted Him to do…so selfish in retrospect.

As we made the drive to the Prince of Peace girls’ home, I watched the world around me- the busy streets, people walking, traffic crawling, at eleven o’clock at night. The team asked questions about our surroundings some fearful of the violence and the crime, but all the while I had a feeling that this was familiar to me, almost welcomed. I had no idea where we were going or what awaited us at the Girls’ Home…I just knew that God was calling me to an adventure, a journey, and I was selfishly thinking it might be about me. I wanted to see His works displayed! I wanted the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to rise! I wanted to see His love pour forth and ignite us all and for lives to be forever changed! Again I prayed, “Daddy, use me! Show me your might and your glory, come out of the box that I’ve put you in! I want to experience you in your fullness!”

And, pulling up to the gates of the home I heard His unmistakable voice, “I AM not the one in the box.”

God’s lessons were beginning, and the megaphone was positioned straight at my heart.

The Journey begins…

I’ve been home a full 3 days from my trip to Guatemala, and I’m still struggling with what to say, what to share, what to reveal about my journey. Tonight I have decided that I have to start somewhere, begin to share the story, open up my heart to what I am only beginning to make sense of…so bear with me.

The moment that I saw the lights of Guatemala City appear out the airplane window, my soul thrilled. There was this feeling pulling on my heart like an excited child dragging my attention to something important. I couldn’t process the feeling immediately, and then I heard it, the voice of God echoing in my spirit with that same emotion of excitement, “I can’t wait for you to meet my children!” I almost cried as the lights grew closer and closer and I began to make out the mountains and the terrain. I closed my eyes and prayed this prayer, “God, show yourself to me. Show me your might and your wonder. Show me how wild and free you are! Break out of this box that I’ve placed you in, and be the wild and powerful God I know you to be!”

There is this misperception that ministry teams come to bring God to the lost…the truth is that God’s people are all over the globe. We don’t know them so we aren’t sure they exist, but they do, everywhere, whether we know them or not. God’s presence isn’t ushered in by one source, nor is it limited by anything. Governments can’t stop Him. Laws can’t rule Him out. He doesn’t require us to represent Him. He is, and we are invited into the journey for what He can teach us and do through us, not for what we can do for Him. I knew the moment I heard His Voice my trip wasn’t about me bringing Him to a lost nation, but Him showing me more of Who He is and what He has done and what He longs to do. This set the tone for the whole trip, the journey where He had invited me. It was about so much more than the abandoned, misused, and rejected girls in a home in Guatemala- it was about His Kingdom, His desires, and my expectations.

I’m going to take the next several days to attempt to communicate what I heard from Father God while I was away, and my prayer is that as you read this, you will understand more of Who He is that allows us to call Him Daddy and, as Paul also prayed “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That is where Life becomes more than existing and is filled to the greatest measure of Love and Grace and POWER that can transform a starved and dying world.