Shining a light.


Today is the day that End it Movement shines a light on slavery. People all around the world put a red ‘X’ on their hands to show their solidarity with the anti-trafficking movement and tell everyone who asks (and maybe even those who don’t ask) why they’ve subjected themselves to possible blood poisoning by ink.

Well, this year I’m in Austria. (Did you know?) I would normally be on-board with something like this, obnoxiously re-posting things about it on Facebook and taking a selfie with my red ‘X’ on the day.

Normally. (But I don’t have a red marker this year… just orange, green, and pink)

It's just not the same.

It’s just not the same.

However, as I thought about how I could participate this year, I realized that even if I did put a red ‘X’ on my hand this year, I wouldn’t be able to tell the people who asked about it. I don’t even know what “human” is in German, much less “trafficking”, forced labor”, and “sex slavery”. I don’t really have a sphere of influence here, and even if I did – no guarantees that I’d even see anyone who spoke English tomorrow.

So, instead, I’ll use this platform.

Most of you already know that God has laid this on my heart. You already know that He opened my eyes and dropped a ministry into my lap, along with incredible opportunities to learn and serve. You know that it’s not about me, not about anything amazing that I’ve ever done but that God is using His church to accomplish His purposes: justice, mercy, love. I’m a part of that church.

The truth and magnitude of trafficking is stunning, staggering, maiming, even. In the last year, anti-trafficking organizations have been saying that instead of 27 million slaves, it’s more like 29.8 million. And that’s an estimate, since it’s such an underground business. There are likely many more in slavery. It’s important to tell people how enormous of an issue it is, but I think it’s even more important to share the stories of hope. And I think we need to make sure that Jesus gets His part in those stories, because Jesus is our hope.

We can talk about the people who are rescued all we want, but if we leave God – the one who truly heals people, completely and in a way that nothing else can from the psychological, physical, and emotional horrors of slavery – out of the picture, then we’ve missed the point. We’ve missed our opportunity to say that Jesus came to seek and to save, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, healing for the broken. And that there’s no other way.

No other way.

There’s no other way that injustice will end. There’s no greater power than the One who pushes into dark places with a brighter light than any we’ve ever been able to produce.

I’ve heard so many incredible stories about Jesus meeting people in the darkest imaginable places. He’s there, and I will testify that He is moving to bring darkness to light. His is the biggest red X, and He’s drawing it with His blood over all the people who need to be rescued.

He’s using us, and He’s setting people free. Hey, that’s a word I do know in German! frei

How long?


Here’s a little confession to get your Friday started off right: I’ve had a tab open on my computer for almost a week with the guitar chords for ‘My Heart Will Go On’ on it… just waiting to have time to try out Celine Dion, acoustic style. Whew, so glad I got that off my chest.

So, I like to pray for people, but I can’t pray for everyone everyday. I mean, I could, but I think my prayer life would get pretty stagnant. So, I divide them up by category and pray for different group every day. Today is Friday, the day that I pray for freedom for the captives around the world.

Today, I found myself asking God to be present with every woman, child, and man who are enslaved today. Then I got on a small thought bunny trail, That’s a big prayer, but God is a big God. He can handle that. He can be present with everyone who has been oppressed at the same time. He could set them all free right now if He wanted to… wait. He does want to. 

Then the thought that I get ashamed of every time if pops into my head came back, doesn’t He want to? Why hasn’t he, yet? Why has this gone on so long?

Here’s what I think. 1) Faith without any doubts probably isn’t very strong because it’s never had to survive the fires of uncertainty. So this whole doesn’t God want to set the captives free? thought is a good thing. 2) God could set people free all by himself, right now, but I think He’s using us instead.

Think about that. God could do this independently. He could loosen all chains right at this moment. He could have done it ages ago, but He’s using the church. He’s asking us to be a part of it. He’s saying, Here’s something that is so horribly wrong, this injustice against My children. It breaks my heart, but I want it to break yours. I want to break your heart for them and use you to set them free so that your heart and the hearts of captors and those who were ignorant of this injustice before will see how horribly people have been treated and never let it happen again. 

I don’t have a scripture to back that up, but I have this sense deep down in my soul that God isn’t acting with his mighty power to break the chains instantly because He wants to partner with us, so that we will learn how to treat each other, not abusing our power or gaining power by hurting other people.

It isn’t because He’s not good, because He is. It isn’t because the problem isn’t massive and urgent and incredibly important, because it is.

How long will it take? How long will we live comfortably while other people live in chains? How long will we say that it doesn’t affect us, even though no country in the world is unaffected? How long will be allow other people to be oppressed? How long will we be the oppressors? How long will it take for us to care and take action?

How long, church? How long?

Post-Easter post.


In case you weren’t already notified, yesterday was the day we commemorated the most pivotal moment in the history of the world: the day when Jesus conquered death so that we could truly live.  It’s called Easter.

That’s had me thinking about what it means to truly be alive.  I’m really not a science-y person, so the whole beating heart and brain function thing doesn’t really sum it up for me.  That’s what it means to have an animated body, not an invigorated soul.

I think my philosophy professor would say that to be truly alive is to be free.  Now, how one becomes free and what that even means is a whole ‘nuther matter.

Somehow, even though the puzzle is incomplete, the picture of freedom keeps coming back to redemption for me.  Even though it means that I’m dependent on another for my redemption and the ensuing freedom, somehow I don’t think I could be free without it.

I think that’s what it means that Jesus’s death set us free to truly live.  The free are the redeemed.  Those who have been bought at a price but not held enslaved because of their unpayable debt.

I could be in debt forever, but I am free.  And because I am free, I truly live.

Invigorated soul, not an animated body.

And because we mentioned the word ‘redemption,’ of course this song came to mind: “Redemption” – Switchfoot

On burdens and ordinary people.


I’m meeting a friend and her son at one of the many cupcakes places in Chicago tonight.  (Really, there are a lot of cupcakes places.  It’s incredible.)  She’s one of the wonderful women from the group I went to India with, a little over a year ago.  My excitement for the reunion brings me back to the story of how God brought that particular ministry and passion into my life.

Some parts of the story aren’t something I can post online, but I’ll include what I can.

It’s funny how God takes a whole bunch of – seemingly – insignificant and unrelated happenings and brings them together into a beautiful story.  I may have posted about this before, but I think it’s incredible enough to re-tell.

I first learned about human trafficking while watching Sue Thomas F. B. Eye, when they caught a man who had shipped a group of people to America in a storage container and had been keeping them in there for weeks.  At the time, I was in 4th or 5th grade, I think, and it horrified me, the type of horror that leaves you speechless but not for lack of questions.  It just knocks the wind out of you.

Then, after 9th grade, during my last few months of having braces, we went to Connecticut on vacation.  On a rainy night, we rented Taken, experienced similar horror at the atrocity and truth of the storyline.  Then, promptly the next day, we walked into the small town on Long Island Sound where we were staying and saw a bake sale that was raising money for Love146.

God placed a burden for people who’ve been oppressed through human trafficking and slavery that day.  And He hasn’t lifted that burden ever since.  Instead, the need for action has been driven deeper and deeper into my soul.  God didn’t lift my burden, didn’t take away the drive I felt to do something.

No, instead, He gave me an outlet.  He put people in my life who saw that He’d given me creativity, gave me the skills I needed, and inspired the Kalos Splanchna jewelry line.  He gave me a way to make a difference by donating the proceeds I made to a program that gives women in India empowering skills and introduces them to Jesus.

The burden never left.  It got deeper, and when I got the opportunity to go to India, to see instead of simply hear, it weighed on me even more.  It’s still there.

Today is SHOUT OUT day for the End It Movement.  So, this is my shout out, my testimony about how God uses ordinary people, who may even be a little reluctant and feel unqualified, to bring His kingdom, the place where justice and right reigns, to earth.

This is the song of my heart today: “Whom Shall I Fear” – Chris Tomlin

Jesus at the center


Sometimes, it seems to me that people get more bogged down, more burdened, and more tired, the deeper they get into Christianity.  I’m fairly certain that isn’t the way Jesus wants it to be.

My mom sometimes makes “Honey Do” lists for my dad.  Sometimes they’re just verbal, which doesn’t really do him much good because then there’s the whole remembering thing.  And sometimes they sit on our kitchen counter for a few months, over on the corner by the phone, in my dad’s angular, slanted, but neat handwriting.  More things get added, in my mom’s flowery cursive and sometimes in my messy scrawl or Brooke’s perfect penmanship.  He’s crossed off one, now two.  Then, one weekend, he crosses off the rest of them in one fell swoop.  Finally, he has all the “Honey Do”s taken care of.

I don’t think Jesus is like that.  (Not to say that my mom isn’t like Jesus. She is.)  I don’t think that when you choose to follow Him you get a list of expectations, just belief at first, then slowly but surely, obligations and rituals and burdens are added to the list.

Not to say that following Him is easy and uninconveniencing, (totally not a word, but I’m going to use it anyways) but rather that it’s upfront.  And actually rather freeing, the more wholly you embrace the whole discipleship deal.

I’ve been set free.

Not from a life of addictions or anything like that, but rather from the legalistic, self-promoting view of Jesus that I used to have.

When you’re young, sometimes Jesus is used as a reason for you to follow the rules.  Sometimes well-meaning people start to develop a view of Jesus that makes Him seem like the ultimate rule-giver.  You thought your parents gave you a lot of rules?  Well, welcome to following Jesus.  Here’s our list.  It starts with being quiet while other people are talking and builds up to sharing with everyone.  And it’s not really their fault, because that’s an easy way to explain the most incredible, hard-to-believe-because-it’s-so-wonderful story ever.

Let me tell you, I’m being set free.  A good example of this is how I worship.  My first church experience was in a church where I don’t think worship was fully embraced.  I’m don’t think they did it wrong by any means, but there’s so much more.  Worship is a lifestyle of adoration.  So, for me, freedom means that I don’t sing about Jesus and His love.  I sing to Jesus.  Or maybe I don’t.  Maybe I just listen to the people around me because my heart needs to hear Him adored by other people.

It looks like putting Jesus at the center, not just while I sing at church, but everywhere.  I’m learning that it doesn’t really matter if that makes me seem strange or like I’m a one of those starry-eyed religious people.  I’m still a real person, and I still don’t have much tolerance for sappiness.  But love for Jesus isn’t sappy, it’s real.

“Jesus at the Center” – Israel Houghton is the song in my heart today.

What it takes to wear a toga.


The Olympics are a time of celebration all over the world, which is a profound thought.  That for about two weeks, we’re connected with those little nations that you’ve never heard of (the one who walk into the arena with 2 athletes and everyone asks their neighbor how to pronounce the name) and the nations that are bigger than us.

And sometimes people put on a toga to celebrate.  And wear a Statue of Liberty crown and hold a paper torch and a book with an expression of Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free. (Thank you, Emma Lazarus)  

Only those most touched by the Olympic spirit have the pluck to do it.  The Statue of Liberty wears more of a robe, I guess, but it has the same wrapped effect that a sheet doubling as a toga does.  And you could say that wearing a toga with the Statue of Liberty garb really just brings the American spirit together with the Greek history of the Olympic games.  Yes, I admire the spirit that brings someone to wear a toga.

Particularly the spirit of the Statue of Liberty.  I forget about her sometimes, not that I don’t know she exists, but I forget about how significant she is.  We have freedom here in America, which is an ideal.  And the best visible representation of that is really Lady Liberty herself.

— Obviously I can’t take photo credit for that one.  I don’t have a helicopter.–

She stands as the first greeting to ships coming across the ocean from Europe, holding the flame of freedom high up out of the water so that none may extinguish it.  And her words – as put in her mouth by Emma Lazarus – entreat them to bring their broken, tired selves, the people that are yearning to break free to American soil.  It’s really too bad that most immigrants don’t come into the US by boat anymore.

That phrase huddled masses yearning to break free strikes a chord within me.  And it makes me glad that so long ago there was a fight for our independence, that now we are free.

In that sense at least.

If only our people here, free by the law of the land, opened their ears to hear Jesus saying the same thing.  Come to me, all you who are weary of heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your weary souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  It seems like they hear the opposite when they think of religion.  Get over here, you troublemakers! You’re not doing well enough!  You have to do z and y and z before you’ll ever be good enough, so you’d better get started. Forget about having fun or resting.  That’s not what it’s about.

We’ve really distorted Jesus’ words, haven’t we?  ‘For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light

Declaration of dependence.


Independence is fabulous thing.  I’m so happy that we don’t have those ridiculous taxes on tea and paper that the British tried to stamp on us way back when.  It’s also great that we don’t have to quarter their soldiers in our houses (unless we want to offer it to them).  I do wish that we had kept the British custom of tea-time, however and the accents.  Ah, well, independence comes with its own set of customs and ways of speaking, I’m sure.

Happy fourth of July, all.  It’s funny to me that we celebrate the day that our Declaration of Independence was signed and not the day we conclusively won our independence.  Is that strange to anyone else?  The Declaration was important, of course and really dangerous for the men signing it, but it didn’t take away Britain’s power over us.  Winning the war did that.

It was the catalyst for change.  And I think that is really spectacular, that the Founding Fathers saw a need for change and wrote it up and put it into practice.

That shows me that the written word has the power to influence and to help us to stay motivated.  So, I’m going to make my own declaration today.

As a younger girl (think late elementary age), I had a few favorite CDs that I would take to my room, close the door, and proceed to make up choreography to every single song on those CD’s.  Those were: The Eagles’ Greatest Hits Album, a Barry Manilow CD (the one that starts with “Mandy” and “The New York City Rhythm”, Michael Bublé’s first album, and Steven Curtis Chapman’s album Declaration of Dependence.  A song I typically skipped on the last album was the title song.  Only in the past few years have I realized exactly what he was saying.

This is my declaration of dependence
This is my declaration of my need
This is my declaration of dependence
On the one who gave His life to me

This is my declaration of dependence.  It’s my catalyst to start change in my life; that I will choose to depend on God, on His timing, and that I will remember that my way is flawed and needs His help.  I have freedom in Christ to be free from what other people think of me, to not need to feel guilt, and to have forgiveness.  But I’m also dependent.  What a strange combination – dependence and freedom. I think that’s something that our world doesn’t understand well.  I’m pretty sure that I don’t really understand it either, and it’s something that’s difficult to express in words.  We all want to be independent, trend-setters, the ones who don’t need anyone else, but we weren’t created to be that way.

We’re dependents.  God could write us all down on his taxes as dependents.  And He’d get a huge return since He actually doesn’t need to pay taxes.  But that’s beside the point: I’m a dependent, and I’m going to be intentional about acting like it.

We’re independent from other human nations and rulers, but let’s not be independent from God, whom we need most, particularly to make our nation truly free.

 

Sneezing and cleaning and a side of worship, please.


Grad party preparations were in progress this morning as my mom and I braved the dust, dead bugs, and junk on our screened-in porch.  Two space heaters (conveniently acquired when our furnace was tagged “dangerous” by the furnace inspection guy this winter, so the heating company provided them for the night spent without heat) kept us warm since this week the temperature has dipped a bit from the unusual highs we’ve been experiencing lately.  The dust started swirling as we went through shelves full of garden supplies, badminton rackets, a random piece of tupperware (we’re not sure how it got out there since we usually keep tupperware in a cupboard in the kitchen… because that makes sense.), too many flip-flops, beach towels, a tube of sunscreen that looked like someone had sent the lawnmower over it (DAD???), and a can of spray adhesive… among other things.

two short breaths in, and CHOO! That’s how I sneeze. (I’m sure you were wondering.)  Not only have the influx of pollen and a night spent around woodsmoke helped me clear out my sinuses by sneezing, but now we have dust as well to keep me sneezing.  I, however, like the sort of strange individual that I am, enjoy sneezing.  I can’t explain it, but I feel like it’s a release.  Like I’m saying LEAVE, pollen.  Clear out the premises, dust. And while we’re cleaning house, get out, Anxiety.  You too, Selfishness.  Out, out, Irritation!  I won’t be missing you

I should sneeze out my faults and hangups more often.

I almost blogged last night about how the empty tomb is inviting to me in more than one way – the first being because it’s a catalyst for rejoicing that my Savior is alive, the second being that it could be a place of retreat for an introvert… – but then I realized that the second reason made me sound depressingly creepy.  I don’t really want to spend time alone in a dark, cold, hard, lonely tomb.  I’d rather have a little room painted lime green all to myself, where pictures of people adorn the walls, but I am alone.  So, there you go.  I’m introverted but not depressed or creepy.  And I’m not a hermit either.

In fact, I went to a party last night.  Not your typical party, since it was actually a church service, but it felt like a party. I’ve mentioned before that I go to church twice each Sunday.  The first time is in the morning, at my more traditional Baptist church.  The second is at 7pm at a slightly younger, much more contemporary church.  The morning service was great; I even went to it twice since I was doing the powerpoint for both services.  But the 7pm was exactly how I think we should celebrate the resurrection.

There was crêpe paper on the walls and strung over the two trees in the room.  After Joe (who I found out a couple weeks ago has the same last name as me) spoke about letting go of our doubts and surrendering to God, we started to sing like the saved.  We sang and clapped and jumped around and danced like we’d been set free.  Because we have been.  If there hadn’t been a great feeling of joy and gratitude to my God behind all that, I would have been the one  standing in the corner, judging and wondering why people were being so rowdy. But it was so clear that it wasn’t about the jumping and clapping and singing – it was just an outpouring from the hearts of people who had been redeemed in the most remarkable way possible.  It was the celebration of people whose God had conquered death and sin forever, once for all.

That, my friends, is joy.  That’s where hope and joy spring from, knowing that my God has overcome all the things that face me in life.

I intend to sing like I’m saved a little more often.

image

Also, we dyed Easter eggs. With a glitter dye kit. It was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had with egg dying.

Reputation = shot.


Words I would use to describe this picture of Mary, mother of Jesus:

  • mature
  • serene
  • respectable
  • pious
  • peaches and cream complexion

I’m pretty sure that those words I just came up with would not have described Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Or maybe I’m thinking of myself at about age 14: awkward, kind of spazzy, skinny, immature.  If an angel had told me that God was going to cause me to become pregnant supernaturally with His son — who would save the whole world someday — I don’t know what my response would have been.  I’m pretty sure that it would not have resembled Mary’s response in the least.  She sang a song of thanks to God for completely ruining her reputation.  Most people would never look at her the same way again.  She became a social outcast, someone people assumed had broken her promise to be true to Joseph.  Because, really, who do you know who would accept the explanation that you were pregnant with God’s son?  It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since.

And she sang a song of praise.

The skeptic in me who just doesn’t want to believe that someone could have such a good response to such incredible news, news that would cause all her friends and family to question her character.   The writers of the Bible must have just left out the part where she fell down on the ground crying.  

My pastor spoke about the type of people God uses this morning, and he used Mary as the example.  When he got to the part about how, in order for God to use us, we have to give up our need to have a good reputation, I instantly balked.  Wait just a sec here.  Aren’t our reputations as Christians super important?  Isn’t that how people distinguish us from the rest of the world?  I’m pretty sure in order for God to use us we need a good reputation.  And we need to maintain it.  And make sure that people have the right idea about us.  And never do anything that could call our good repute into question.

Then years of Sunday school kicked in as the other half of my brain responded, uh, hello, Ashley, remember Rahab, the prostitute?  How about Paul, the persecutor of the church?  Ever hear of Peter, the one who denied Christ in his hour of need?  stellar reputations?  I think not.  And, all of a sudden, my whole world flipped upside down.  As I thought more about it, I realized why he said that.  When my concern is for my reputation, how I look to people, it becomes about me.  Sure, my ultimate goal is for people to see Christ in me, but, then again, wouldn’t it be better if no one understood why I did the things I did and even called into question my motives, but I was wholly, thoroughly, consistently obedient to God?

Answer: YES.

This got me thinking about all the issues I try to solve in my mind and how what people think always plays into my decisions.  It’s not a concern for acceptance that brings that to mind; it’s an assurance that I’m understood.  I have a strong need to be understood – it’s why I ramble on long after other people would have stopped explaining things, why I can never make my blog posts short, why I flip over the same sentence three jillion times in a different way to make sure that everyone gets my point as I intend it to be gotten.

Today, as I sat in my pew, listening, God gave me a little shock.  I need to give up my reputation.  It’s not about me, not about being understood.

And actually, that’s kind of freeing.