Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Let's Thank the Guys Doing the Hard Stuff

A couple of weekends ago, a surprise meeting at the immigration office landed me in downtown San Jose with my husband for the evening. We stayed in a lovely old hotel and enjoyed a stroll through the downtown shopping area that afternoon. As evening set in, we strolled past an infamous "hotel/casino" in the heart of downtown that is widely known to be a front for a prostitution ring. You can find it listed in just about any tourist guide to Costa Rica and an image search of its name will give you an eyeful of what's really being marketed there. It is also widely known that most of the women (girls?) working the place are not Costa Rican. They are Columbian, Nicaraguan and who knows what else. Which of course led me to wonder how many of them got here by being trafficked here. And how many of them were under-aged and stolen and trapped.

For a quick moment, I wanted to tell my husband to march in there and have a look around, to scope it out and see if there were any girls who looked too young, who looked afraid, who looked like they had been hit or hurt, who looked like they were there against their will. I wanted to tell him to ask to see their boss. To ask if they were any girls for sale. To ask specifically for foreign girls and see what he said.
About a minute later, I realized, of course, that this was not an option.

We are not equipped for this, us two foreign missionaries. We proclaim the Gospel to an indigenous people. We build chapels in poor areas. We are working to provide meaningful work to women. We have committed ourselves to taking whatever action we can to fight modern slavery. I am humbled and feel a great privilege to be called to this work. God gave us the perfect job for who we are, what we know and  what we feel called to do.

We are not undercover investigators. We do not have the collective experience, the collaborative cooperation, the expensive equipment or the strong sense of purpose that sends us into the world's darkest corners to find, gain the trust of, record the stories of modern day slaves, then coordinate their rescue, the prosecution of their captors and the beginning of their journey to recovery.

But The Exodus Road does. They've got all that. And they're using to set captives free. 

And right now they're inviting those of us who care passionately about the fight to end slavery to offer our support and encouragement to the men on the front lines -- the men who strap themselves up with undercover surveillance equipment and spend their nights in brothels in Southeast Asia collecting the information they need to rescue the underage victims of sexual slavery. That's a hard job description to carry around day in and day out. I am certain there are days they'd rather not do it. I am certain there are nights it feels hopeless. And I am certain they often feel all alone in those dark places full of scum bags thinking not rescue but ruin.

Would you take a moment to write them and express your gratitude some time between now and January 10th. Hand-written notes would be greatly appreciated. They can be mailed to The Exodus Road |  PO Box 7591 |  Woodland Park, Colorado, 80863. 
If you are unable to get a hand-written note in the mail, you can submit a letter online here. 
Could it be any easier than that? For those of us who want with all our hearts to fight this atrocity but have been called to the front lines of a different kind of work, what better way could there be to offer our hope, our support, our encouragement to the guys doing the hard stuff for us. 
I'm taking away your excuse that you don't know what you to say too. Here's Laura's letter. She and her husband Matt founded this work. They lived it on the ground for two years. The lady knows what she's talking it. Let her teach you. And I am pasting mine below too. So there. No excuses. 
Make a little room in your inn this Christmas and shine a little warmth into a dark world. Because really, what better way is there to honor the light of heaven dawning on earth?
So go do it. Do what you can. Don't wait. Night will come quickly in Southeast Asia and these guys will hit the streets once again. Let them know they are not alone in the dark.


Dear Investigator,
I just wanted to take the time to tell you thank you for the work you do. I am a wife, mother and foreign missionary with a passion for the cause of ending human slavery and sexual exploitation. I want so badly to run right into all those places, wrap those little girls up in my arms and take them home. But that's not how it works, is it. You know that way better than I do.
The more I learn about what it takes to go nightly into the darkness of the world of human slavery, find and gain the trust of its victims, coordinate their rescue, prosecute their offenders, and put them on the road to recovery, the more I am humbled and grateful for your commitment, your sacrifice, your heroic passion.
I know there must be nights when you don't want to leave the comfort of your home and hang out with scum in dank corners of this broken world. I know there must be moments when you want to scrap the process and just punch someone square in the face, or grab a little girl up in your arms and just run. Yet you don't. You stay the course knowing what real rescue means. You do it night after night, fighting the discouragement and the hopelessness that hangs over these places for the ray of hope that is one person freed from captivity.
For this, I personally am so very grateful. I want to be part of the solution to human trafficking. I want to face the darkness of that reality and shine hope. I want to love enough not turn away from ugly situations. Often it seems that from where I am, there is little I can do. But I hope by letting you know that your work and your sacrifice are deeply appreciated by those of us who do not fight on the front lines, you will feel a little less like no one notices what you are doing,  a little less alone in the darkness, and a little more like you are a part of an army. Your back up might be far away, but we will not leave you alone. And we will not forget you. I will offer a prayer for your safety and the success of your work each night as the darkness creeps over my part of the world and hope it makes its way to you to be a small beacon of encouragement. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being the one who does the hard thing.
Colleen Mitchell

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Growing Up, Grief and Grace: Part 3, Grace

There's one last post to be written in this series about how growing upgrief and grace have changed me as a person, and as a missionary.

I've had a hard time wrapping my head around how to write about grace. It's not like God suddenly invented a new grace that has made this leg of my missionary journey easier. It's also not like I've suddenly become a saint and I don't want to write in such a way that anyone would ever think that. In fact, I've stalled on writing this post, because I've been struggling to keep up the discipline of the very practices I want to write about.

It comes down to this. I have always known that living the life of grace, both the sacramental grace offered by the Church and the grace of turning our daily walk into something sacred, was the both battleground and the victor's circle of the spiritual life. It is where we fight to stay strong and to persevere, it is where we get up again when the knock-out punch rings loud in our ears, it is where we dance with joy in our victorious moments and where we wipe away the tears of our failures. It is where we learn to walk in the light and where we learn to keep walking when there is no light.

But in my young faith life, this was all pretty much theory. I got the grace thing. But whatever the ups and downs of life were at the time, my hopes and dreams and boot straps were still enough to pull me and keep me going day to day. Then there was all that growing up and grieving. And those little bits of self weren't enough any more. I wasn't enough for me any more. I was really utterly dependent on God to sustain me for the first time in my life. And I learned what grace really was. 

I think back to the days after Bryce's death, of the cloud of grace that carried me through to the other side of the darkest days of my life, and I am humbled to the point of tears. I think of coming home from a D & C to a cleared out house and mound of suit cases and departure for the mission field looming four days ahead, and the grace that carried me forward to the hospitality of waiting friends, the love of people who wrapped my babies in their arms and held them for me so I could grieve once again, and the grace that made my feet go when my head could not think straight.

These memories, when I think back on them, feel like a dream. I know they are real experiences, but the memories is not sharp and painful like some memories. They are soft and wispy. Bittersweet. But sweet. They are surrounded in a cloudiness. It is grace.

And that cloud has surrounded this whole first year here in this mission post. It has not been easy. Neither were those things I just described above. It has not been without its ugliness, mistakes, and failures. I have battled self long and hard here. I have been disappointed and hurt. My husband lost his mother. My brother fights a terrible disease daily and I am not there. And yet, the walk through all of that has been made possible each and every day. And I have found peace and consolation in being where I am each and every day. This is grace.

I can point to three things that have kept me living in that cloud of grace over the last year. Habits that have been formed in the years of growing up and grief and learning to live dependent on grace. Habits that have become a focus and cornerstone of our life over the last year because of the strong leadership of my husband and the faithful spiritual direction of a holy priest. Habits that dear sisters mentored me to form. All gifts. Gifts given to me by someone else's love, sacrifice, sharing.

Because isn't that the essence of grace? It is the redemptive work of mercy in action. Sacramental grace is won for us by Christ's ultimate sacrifice and administered to us by the shared faith of our Church. And the actual grace that comes into our lives too most often comes my the love and service and sharing of another.

The first gift is the gift of speaking grace. I am user of words. Lots of words. Verbally. Written. Read. I like words.  I have learned from some of the loveliest women the power that encouraging, building-up words have to transform those around us. And to transform our own perspective. When we make a commitment to speak of our daily walk in a way that highlights the beauty and the grace we find in it, the world is made better by it. So I have worked hard to cultivate the habit of using my love of words to communicate all that I see as good and lovely and noble and true about the journey we have been on for the last year. And it has transformed the way I look at the journey. Shrouded it all in that cloud of grace that makes both the hard and the bitter sweet. Progress on the verbal end of this habit is still faulty and flawed. I have that punched in the gut feeling when I relive my own words in my head way more than I would like. But imperfect progress is still progress and I am going to keep honing this habit of speaking grace.

The second is gift if finding grace. I used to think that grace was something that appeared miraculously in over lives, happy moments that were sure signs that God loved us and was with us. And then there were the days of little wooden coffins and still ultrasound screens and miracles that flitted into our lives and faded out before they were real. And if I was going to continue to call myself a believer, grace needed redefining. And there was this voice in my life. This melodious gift of words that told me that grace is found where we look for it. That we can count the ways He loves in the lovely but we can count it in the ugly dark too. This voice that told me that to walk in grace is to realize that eucharisteo is about brokenness, not the warm smell of fresh bread, that the fragrance of the hurting and wounded heart who seeks His presence right there in the hard places is a perfume for the spirit. A voice that said, " Don't just look casual. Don't stumble upon grace accidentally. Don't hurry through the hurt and the chaos and the confusion. Live it. Look it in the face. See that He is there. Over and over again. In myriad ways. And count them. One by one. Count them. Until there are a hundred then a thousand, then more. Until you are forever changed." And I did. And I have been.

The third gift is the gift of the greatest grace. When my husband told me that our spiritual director was suggesting that we make an hour of prayer in front of the Eucharist a daily habit for our family in mission, I chuckled. A cynical chuckle. A chuckle that said, " Clearly, he's a good guy and a smart guy and holy guy and doesn't have a clue." Because getting myself to holy hour once a week for silence I relished and savored was already a bewildering conundrum and getting my boys through 15 or 20 minutes every now and then was enough to rob me of the grace earned in that hour.

But they were stalwart these two men. Stalwart in the face of my I-know-so-much-better-than-you pride and stubborn will. And we arrived in this mission post and we put feet to dusty road and we went. Every morning we went. Just us. Sometimes silent, sometimes begging repentance and conversion, sometimes singing praise. Some days boys slept and some days they sneaked outside and climbed high in the limbs of trees before we noticed. It was not perfect. But there before Christ, there was more than enough grace for all those imperfections. Grace to cover loneliness and loss and worry and fear and pain. Grace to keep us near to Him and remind us to stay out of His way. Grace to remind me that the miracle is not in the big Hollywood action scene life but in the daily walk on the dusty roads that says to others, "I am still here", just like His quiet presence in the silence of our Churches says to us.

These last few weeks have been a bit off kilter for us. Our schedule has been flipped on its side and spilled into chaos by sickness and surprise runs to immigration office and a million other things. I have failed to live the greatest grace--the going to Him there fully present, divine and real, and drinking of the fullness that fills and drowns out all that is broken and ugly in me. And in the midst of it, I feel myself creeping in, getting in the way, wanting it my way, seeing the ugly and not counting the grace, speaking the ugly and not the lovely.

But the good news? I recognize the way out. I know where to find the cork that will plug my grace leak. It's in heading back to the greatest grace, breathing in the fullness of Christ present in the Eucharist, breathing in the air of perfection, the light of hope, listening to quiet whisper of His voice that says, "Don't run so fast next time, and maybe you won't fall as hard." That says, "You know, breathing is good. When was the last time you checked to see if you were still breathing. Be quiet. Breathe with purpose. Breathe grace. That is where you will find strength. I am the Breath of Life."

And in a great mercy, I see it now. When I start to feel the shoulders tighten and the jaw clench. When the thoughts flow ugly and mean long before the words ever do. When there is so much me I am too heavy to carry, I want to run to Him. Sit under the protection of grace. Be called back into a life of grace by forgiveness of my sins, wiped clean by the grace of confession, my emptiness filled by the bread broken and blessed, the Eucharistic body of Christ.

Sometimes, I'll feel the weight of brokenness heavy in my heart and think, "Wait. I'm getting all in the way again. How long has it been since we went to adoration? To Mass?" And to my surprise I will realize it has been a day. And when I see how much of mess I can make of His lovely work in just one day without Him, I wonder how I ever lived, breathed, survived before this. I count the blessing of the greatest gift -- the fullness of His love and mercy made present to me every day so that it is not my boot straps that pull me back up when ugliness and brokenness and hurt knock me down but the river of mercy that flows from Him. 

And so I receive the greatest grace. And I seek it. And I count it. And I speak it. And I walk out of the brokenness and the darkness and into the light once again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Let's Take Advantage of An Opportunity

This has got to be the easiest way of taking action against human slavery I have posted yet in this series. And it's lovely too. And full of joy and HOPE. Sweet, sweet Hope.

So here's what you do.

  1. You go read over at Ann's blog. You read about Hope. And you read about Ashoka. And you read about Mary and Jesus and Ann and her Mama. And you be moved to your core by the faces and the beauty amidst the ugly and the truth born into the middle of it all.
  2. Then you click on over to this amazing story. Don't just click to buy straightaway. Pay the women of Freeset a visit. Get to know them. Get to know their work. Learn how you can fight trafficking with them.
  3. Then you can scoop yourself up one of these awesome bags. Buy the message. Buy it and be all in. you are blessed and you can bless. Because He was born and broken for you and turns it all beautiful. Buy a big bag full of hope. For you. For Ashoka. For Hope herself.
  4. Then live it. Live the message. Be the message. Be broken and beautiful and blessed. And bless. Bless everyone you meet by leaking the grace given right out of you and into their hands, their lives. 
See, easy. Now, what are you waiting for? Go. The time draws near. He comes. Do you not want to be about His Father's business when the heavens open to announce His presence and sing 1,000 "Hosannas"? Do you not want to already have sung His goodness with your life? I do.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sharing My Heart In a New Place

I have often written about how one of my greatest struggles in living life as a missionary is a battle with loneliness. After nearly a year in our current mission, I find that some hard growing up over the last couple of years has helped me to accept the burden of loneliness that comes with this life. But I’m facing a new struggle this time around, one that pains my heart worse than my own loneliness ever did. It is watching my teenage son adjust to the reality of life in this place, battle the unavoidable loneliness it brings.....

Read the rest of this post at A Life Overseas where I am honored to be guest posting today. A new community where we discuss and share on the realities of life as a missionary or overseas worker. It is a lovely space filled with the collective wisdom of truly generous hearts. Come visit!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Let's Stand With Those Who Set Captives Free

Early on in this series of posts, I encouraged us to really listen to stories of the victims of trafficking and slavery that we are hoping to help. Of the course of these couple of months that I have been reading, researching and speaking out about trafficking, I have spent a lot of time connecting with those of the front lines of the fight in different ways, visiting their web sites and really getting to know and understand their work, communicating via e-mail, reading their blogs, and even talking to some over the phone. I hope to add a face to face meeting to that list soon with a trip to the Salvando Corazones facility some time this month.

I want to join them in their fight and am passionate about keeping the reality of trafficking and sex slavery in front of people's eyes. But in reality, my mission is not on the front lines, and because of that I lacked the opportunity to give voice to the real stories of this battle. The more I read and connect with this issue, the more strongly I feel we need to be careful how we talk about it. We cannot use these stories to create drama, to sensationalize a situation or to break people's hearts just for the sake of seeing their "oh, how sad" reactions. We have to speak and give voice to the reality behind the "issue" in a way that creates community of soldiers armed to fight, that draws real and committed support to those actually called to do the work, and that catalyzes action in individual hearts and organizational structure. It is important that we know and share the stories of trafficking and slavery, but it is equally important that we know that the source of those stories is first-hand, is trustworthy and has broad knowledge and understanding of the scope of this issue based on collective field experience.

I don't have that. But I do have a voice and a passion to use it to tell those stories. For this reason, I am humbled to begin helping the amazing team at Exodus Road as a part of a team of bloggers that is helping them share the stories of their work, their rescues and the lives they save. In this season we prepare to welcome Him who came to bring glad tidings to the lowly and to set the captives free, what better good news is there to share but that He is still doing it? Still reaching into the ugly dark places of our world, taking the captives and slaves by the hand and bringing them to freedom?

The team at Exodus Road is on the ground in Southeast Asia fighting trafficking with targeted interventions. They have formed a coalition of undercover investigators with years of experience and a broad field of knowledge in this area. These brave souls who enter some of the darkest places of our world and collect invaluable evidence using covert recording equipment. That evidence becomes the key that can unlock the prison doors for one, two, or many modern day slaves being held and sold within the sex industry.

Like a 15 year old girl named Sarah, whom a member of the Exodus Road investigative team met in a brothel in Cambodia three days after her mother sold her for $600 USD to pay off a debt. She was being marketed as "fresh" by the brothel owner, her virginity a prize to purchased. On the investigator's first visit, with Sarah, even though he had been able to record her sale and put her in communication with a social worker who spoke her language and could help her understand that he was there to rescue her, not hurt her, he was not able to gain her trust, make her understand that he could help her escape.

But he went back. Because setting the captives free is unrelenting work. And when he did, Sarah was ready. She slipped him on a note on piece of paper begging, "Please rescue me."

Read the story of Sarah's rescue here.

This is the story of one of the 27 million modern day slaves who do not know, cannot believe, or even imagine that their deliver is coming. But He is. He will come. He will come when we stop turning away and begin to stand beside those who can fight the true fight, like Exodus Road's 15 investigators and their respective support organizations.

Knowing the stories of the faces of slavery, true stories, not sensationalized scenarios, opens our eyes and makes it impossible to dismiss this reality. “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” -William Wilberforce

If you don't want to be one to look the other way, if you want to be one who walks beside those who set the captives free, take the time to follow Exodus Road on Facebook today. Subscribe to the Exodus Road newsletter here. Watch this video on how Exodus Road began: 

The Exodus Road: Fighting to End Child Slavery from Justin Lukasavige on Vimeo.

This is a fight no one can win fighting alone. After all these weeks blogging and learning and trying to action, I am honored to stand beside those at Exodus Road and fight together. The captives are waiting. Let's sing to them in one voice that their Deliver is coming. He is standing by. And He is waiting on us to go.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

As the Frenzy Ensues

As the frenzy of Christmas shopping and preparations ensues, I wanted to take the time to remind all of you about the responsible shopping links in this post. I have put it as a page right up there at the top of the blog so you can find it easily, and I have been editting and adding links to new businesses I have discovered since the original post.
Please share your favorite links in the comments section as well. And consider adding items from one of these sites to your shopping list this Christmas. You can give a gift, send a message, spread the word all at once. Plus, it's a much less frantic way to shop!
So make some hot chocolate or a peppermint mocha latte and click around. I know you'll be both satisfied and inspired.
And we can continue to our fight and live our commitment to take action against trafficking in the midst of the holiday rush when we often have such good intentions but quickly lose focus.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I'm Full

I'm not going to be joining my big, beautiful family around the Thanksgiving table this year. I won't take in the endless games of football and glasses of wine and snarky comebacks and too-loud laughter and the rich abundance of culinary grace that I have come to call Thanksgiving. I won't end this day so full of food and drink and family that I want to curl up in a corner and sleep for days and dream it all over again.

And I could be really, really sad about that, because truly, Thanksgiving-- the reality, the history, the whole notion of it-- is one of my most favorite things ever. But I'm not. Because you know what? I won't have any of those festive Thanksgiving moments today, but I am still full. Full. Full. Full. Chock full and over stuffed with blessings and grace and beauty and joy in this life that I live and this life that I love.

I type to the cadence of a familiar piano tune. The tune that plays in the lovely online home of my friend Ann. The tune I open up when I need to remember grace, need to remember slow, need to remember thanks, need to say long and loud and live it on repeat, eucharisteo. 

The thanksgiving word, the word that says it all at once, speaks of what it really means to give thanks, to be thankful, to live full. To break bread, to be broken so that you may be shared, to recognize Him in the broken bread and to sit in continuous awe of His presence.

This is the life I get to live every. single. day. Hand in hand with my beloved, surrounded by the exuberant noise of the blessed band of brothers, I go out, Christ in my heart, Christ in our hands. And we kneel in His presence with our brothers and sisters whom we may never have met this side of heaven without this call. And we worship. And we are broken and beautiful and we are full. So, so full. Of His tender mercy and of the life of common grace at the ends of the earth.

And I watch as families living a faraway life in a faraway native culture descend from the mountains, babies strapped tightly to their backs, machetes at their sides, coffee baskets in hand. Their poverty and their timidity and their pride and their tight family core all evident in one glance. And the fullness of it spills over and we call the spilling zeal because it makes me want to run with it, this dripping, leaking grace called eucharisteo. And I want to run out into the dirt roads and grab their hands and shout with joy to them that hope is theirs and love is theirs and mercy is theirs and that there is a forever life that looks so very different from this hard life they live and that even in the emptiest, ugliest moments of sickness and wetness and coldness and hunger, there is a bread that fills, a living water that quenches and that they too can feel always full. Full.

Yesterday I walked in my husband's rubber boots up the sloping mountain road to church and met a group of women there who had come to study English with me. Their shy smiles turned to wide laughing before our time together was through. We entered unsure what to say and left holding hands and patting heads and wishing we didn't have to go just yet. Among them was my sweet old friend, Dona Lilian, a life nearly used up, happily confused about reality and in love with everyone she meets. Broken and beautiful. She interrupted us more times than I can count to tell us that she will bring cookies next time. The bread of the broken. Offered in worn hands. And I am full.

Dona Lilian, she brought me some shoes. Just like she had promised when she called me at 6:15 that morning. Some shoes given to her by someone wanting to bless, to give thanks, to live eucharisteo. They don't fit her, so she passed them to me, just like she passed to me the book from Mount Vernon she had in her home since some time in the 1960s I think and the missal from church from 2007. Long-lived and broken in thought, but whole in love that Dona Lilian is. The shoes, they're, well, old lady shoes. Old old lady shoes. That fit me.

And I will walk to church in them tonight. And this will be my Thanksgiving. Walking in her shoes to break bread with her at the altar of our God. Partaking in the only meal that really fills. Living in the blessed and the broken and the giving and the receiving, in the slow cadence of a beautiful song that sings, "Give thanks and all things rejoice, because He has made you glad, sweet one." And I am full. So, so full the grace leaks straight from eyes in a river of joy and gratitude.

This life is a life of giving up. But it is not a life of want. It is a life of need filled by abundant grace and fed by Love Himself. The banquet has been served for me, and me, I shall have my full.

Happy thanksgiving, friends. Happy, happy, broken and full eucharisteo.

Friday, November 16, 2012

On Growing Up, Grief and Grace: Part 2, Grief

I wrote recently that I have been processing a bit about our past missionary experiences compared with this one and why I seem so much more able to cope this time. I wrote a little about how how I've grown up a bit since our first mission last week.
Another reason I think I'm coping a bit differently this time is that the experience I've had in losing my sixth son Bryce 3 three years ago and suffering two subsequent miscarriages since then has changed me. I am a different woman in many ways that I was before. But I think the thing I have seen most in our time here in this mission post is that grief has taught me how to be lonely.
This mission life is an inherently lonely life. No we are not the missionaries of old who waved goodbye to their families, stepped onto ships and were fully prepared to never to see their homeland or families again. I mean, just since our last spell in missions six years ago, the availability of internet, Facebook and Skype have drastically changed communication. I can daily peek in to life back home and check on a family member in the hospital or a friend about to give birth to twins. I can readily communicate with supporters and people helping to meet the needs of our ministry. It is a huge difference in the level of isolation we feel.
However, regardless of how much easier communication is now, the missionary life is an essentially lonely one and battling feeling lonely and forgotten is part of the daily struggle of this life. I think it is in God's design for this life, really, because that daily hunger for something that you can't quite put your finger on (and not the hunger for a bacon cheeseburger and margaritas -- that's a different issue altogether) can, if you let it, keep clinging to the grace and the love that is meant to fill you with only good things, that is the only way to keep walking this missionary road without completely falling apart. Ideally, the loneliness should draw you to prayer, and into the heart of your marriage if you are a married missionary, which I am. Ahem, let me stress, ideally.
You leave behind a lot when you go to the mission field, including real face-to-face contact with your family and having the encouragement of a friend a text message away. You also leave behind the happy chatter with your sister on your drive home from the grocery store and the chance to recharge from a stressful day by hanging with mommies on the sidelines of the football field or the lobby of the play rehearsal for a couple hours. Days are long and stressful and often lonely. You chat with your neighbors and it helps, but it's not the same. You feel the terrible sting of disappointment in your friends because, well, their lives go on and are not all about keeping you happy on the mission field. And then you get over it. Ideally. Ahem, let me again stress, ideally.
Because, you see, last time, six years ago, I never really got over it. I am an off-the-charts extrovert who has long dealt with stress and trial by seeking a little socialization and the company of others. A laugh with a friend, or to be quite honest, a perfect stranger, is like pushing the reset button in my brain. And it can be a good coping strategy. However, there have been times in my life when I have clung to that need like it was oxygen. Like I would die without constant contact with others. In times of difficulties, sorrow, or trial, I am tempted to use the company of others to placate the wounds.
I didn't quite have the self-awareness I do now six years ago. I couldn't put my finger on that hunger and call it loneliness and tell myself, "This is you looking to cope with stress in the way you are accustomed to, and that's not going to work here. Slow down, settle in, you'll figure out how to cope." Instead, I became increasingly panicked about that nagging feeling that something wasn't right. I frantically searched out the company of others. I built resentment toward my husband that he couldn't fill this growing thing inside me. And I was completely ignorant of what it really was and that it was and would always be an inherent struggle for me.
In the growing up I've done in the past six years, I've come to see this tendency in myself. I can't say I've learned to rein it in. It's still a daily struggle for me. But when I was plunged into grief after the loss of Bryce three years ago, I was plunged into a lifelong sense of loss and loneliness that I have had no choice but to learn to live with. And that has made the transition back into missionary life a bit easier to live with this time around.
Don't get me wrong, the loving support of family and friends was essential to my survival after Bryce's death and my subsequent losses. But the truth is, grief drives a wedge into your heart that leaves you always feeling a little disconnected from the rest of the world, always a little bit apart from everyone else. Your internal dialogue is constant and intense and it's not something you can articulate regularly to others without risking getting a reputation for being the new crazy lady in town. I mean, when the phone rings and a friend's voice rings out sincerely, "How are you? What are you doing today?" you can't well answer, "Well, I just convinced myself to take the last ten breaths! In a row! And then shook each of my kids in their beds to make sure they were breathing. Now I'm cooking breakfast and counting to 100 while I stir to try to shake my brain free of horrific images. What about you?"
So you give away little pieces of your heart to make sure you don't implode. But you come to live with the reality that this is an essentially singular process. And that the hunger and loneliness you feel is largely for the person you lost and the future you won't have and, well, that's not going away no matter how many good conversations with friends you have or how you fill up your days with constant interaction.
However, if you can look at yourself honestly and recognize the hunger for what it is, it can drive you to honest communication with your Heavenly Father, a real clinging to grace, and to baring the most vulnerable parts of your heart to your spouse, which is how it should be.
I think in my initial grief, I did pretty well with this. As time went on and I experienced the two miscarriages and the pain of reality became a little much to bear, I slid back into old habits, filling life with hustle and bustle and laughter and joy, but leaving my real interior living and processing, and the chance to heal, on the back burner. And running from the very person for whom I should have reserved that vulnerability, my husband.
But an incredible grace accompanied me into this mission along with that new grown self-awareness. I knew I was going to be lonely. I knew it was going to be terrible intense. I knew I would battle a rising hunger, a craving nothing could seem to meet, and I knew what it was. Loneliness was no longer foreign to me. I surrendered to it this time around and admitted that, if I was honest, I had paid the price of clinging to others to feed that hunger and it just wasn't worth it. I'd rather be lonely than disappointed, hurt, and betrayed, which are the inevitable results of giving too much of yourself away in the search for the company of others.
That's not to say I haven't felt its pangs here. I have. Desperately at time. I've cried for loneliness and I've laid myself at the feet of Jesus over and over again. But what is different is that I have not rushed headlong into the frantic illusion that it can and must be fixed. When I throw a lifeline out to a friend via e-mail and get no response, I cling to the grace to sit in that pain. When I feel the temptation rise to run after the response of others, I strap on my shoes and pound it out into the pavement with a long walk or run. When I need to spill it all out somewhere, I grab my journal and head to a rock on the river's edge.
We've been here almost a year now. I've spent a lot of that time living the dull ache of loneliness day in and day out. And it's a familiar ache. And it doesn't scare me the way it once did. Because, in all truthfulness, it's been long coming that I let go of the illusion of belonging, of fitting in. I used to look for that in places like homeschooling communities, circles of like-minded friends, mommy buddies. But, really, where does the women who has turned birth into death three times in the last three years fit in those circles anyway. Pictures of pretty cupcakes and cure crafts don't really bridge that gap, if you know I mean. I've been long recognizing that the diet of spiritual cupcakes I used to feed myself on in loneliness, the company and approval of others, wasn't enough to give me the strength to recover from the enormity of these losses, from the desperate hunger for love and intimacy it has evoked in my soul. In His grace, the Lord used missions to force me to fully surrendered to this gift of wisdom He had long been growing in my heart.
Yes, I've spent the better part of the last year feeling the dull ache of loneliness. And I've realized it is not a panicked, haunting feeling for me any more. It is a familiar, albeit occasionally unwelcome, friend. And in surrendering to it, I've learned a little more how to cope. I've felt the gaping wounds of grief close a little tighter in my heart as I lean in to the embrace of the Savior and the ready arms of the man I love. And I've learned to settle into it when the hunger just won't go away and let it be what it is. Not something to fix but something to carry, in cupped and careful hands, because it is the work He is doing in my soul and it is sacred.
And I am daily singing myself a new song. This one. And reminding myself daily to settle down. It'll all be clear. To pay no mind to the demon of loneliness that can fill me with fear. Because He's going to make this place my home.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let's Promote Responsible Tourism

One aspect of fighting trafficking that I have really hoped to get into in these 31 Days of Action was ways we could affect the tourism industry by using our voices to advocate for the victims of sex tourism which is a widespread problem in just about every tourism location on the globe, but particularly in the tourist destinations of developing nations. In countries where tourism is based on ecology and biodiversity, it is also often based in areas of poverty, with little infrastructure to protect the natural resources and the native population from exploitation.

In these nations, the Trafficking Persons Report has been a helpful tool to motivate governments to take action to protect their own people. But government action alone will not put a dent into the problem without activists on the ground. The NY Times just this weekend reported that the tourism sector seems to finally be being called to action on this issue in this article. It is not only full of hopeful prospects that we might be able to rely on the tourism sector to do its part, but with inspiration of how one person educated on the issue and willing to speak up can make a difference. The article relates this story:

Michelle Guelbart, private sector project coordinator for Ecpat USA, said the public should get involved too. Not long ago, she said, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, a religious order, contacted a hotel in St. Louis and asked if it had a policy against human trafficking. “The hotel did not,” Ms. Guelbart recalled, “but put one in place.”

So why don't we start asking? Here are some ways we can promote responsibility among the tourism sector:

  • Read and understand the work being done by the Tourism-Child Protection Code of Conduct.
  • Spend your tourism dollars at the organizations that are following the Code and write them to let hem know that they have your business because of that.
  • Contact your local tourism office and ask them to consider joining the Code participants.
  • When traveling, ask about human trafficking policies at your airline, car rental, and hotels and restaurants. Let the owners and managers know that you prefer to support businesses that have anti-trafficking policies in place.
  • When traveling, find out who the local authorities are you should contact in the case of suspicions about trafficking. The more local authorities know that tourists are watching and aware, the more likely they are to respond to reports.
  • Keep your eyes open and stay aware when traveling. Know how to recognize the signs of a possible trafficking victim. If you suspect something, SPEAK UP. Don't stay silent even if it feels awkward. You might be wrong. But what if you were right and said nothing?
  • Talk to vendors and owners in your local tourism industry about prioritizing anti trafficking education and policy. Make appointments with the owners or managers of hotels and other tourism sector businesses locally. Share the resources offered by The Code and other anti-trafficking advocate groups. Share your personal concerns and passions about the issue. Encourage them to step up and do their part.
  • Come back tomorrow and sign the Responsible Tourism Pledge here and share it with others. We can make a difference through increasing our awareness, being more intentional in our behaviors, and educating others. 
  • My son Quinn and I created this button that we are going to e-mail to tourist businesses here in Costa Rica and ask them to post on their web sites. Would you join us in our efforts? Make a commitment to google hotels and other businesses in Costa Rica and e-mail them the button with a personal note requesting they step up and speak out? Or choose your own favorite tourist destination or a place that has your heart for whatever reason, like Cambodia or Thailand or Nicaragua or your hometown, and do the same. If you need our help creating a button for a specific locale, let us know. We'd be glad to help.

  • Don't stop praying! 
This war is being fought and battles are being won by regular people like you and me who are taking risks, speaking out, standing up. Let's put aside our fears and embarrassments and join them. The lives of so many hang in the balance.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mercy Covers on Pure Charity

You can now back Mercy Covers on Pure Charity!

Have you heard about Pure Charity? It is a brilliant vision for increasing your ability to give while you spend money the places you already spend money anyway. Here's what you do:

  1. Sign up for an account.
  2. Add the credit or debit card you do most of your normal shopping with to do that account.
  3. Download the plug in to your computer.
  4. Hang out for a while searching all the super cool projects you can support. Become an advocate for Mercy Covers. (You do not have to donate to become an advocate.)
  5. Share the advocate link on Facebook and Twitter and invite your friends to support Mercy Covers on Pure Charity.
  6. Shop with the credit card you registered on Pure Charity online and in person at any of their partner businesses and the portion of your purchase that that company would normally donate to charitable causes if their choosing instead goes into your Pure Charity giving fund for you to allocate toward Pure Charity projects of your choosing. How awesome is that?!
  7. Make direct donations to your chosen projects with the registered credit card.
  8. That's all. Go. Now. Follow the link in the Mercy Covers widget below!

Friday, November 9, 2012

On Growing Up, Grief and Grace: Part 1, Growing Up

Some of you know that before our arrival here in Costa Rica in January, we had spent two years serving as foreign missionaries about six years before that. I have been thinking a lot lately about how different an experience that this year has been for me compared to those years and examining why. I want to know what has made it so much easier this time around. Not because I want to pat myself on the back (okay, it might be a temptation, but it's not the main reason) but because this life highlights so many of my hardest struggles. If I can get it right here, I need to know the formula so I can use it to get it right in the big, interior battles that I still lose far too often.

Here's what I think it comes down to. First, I have grown up an awful lot in the last six years. Second, grief has changed me. And third, grace. Just grace. Today, I am thinking about growing up.


On Growing Up
First, let me say that it is not lost on me that this time around my youngest child is the same age as my oldest child was when we left for our first missionary post. I was eight weeks postpartum with a five year old, two year old and newborn when we left for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Life is easier in some ways with this band of brothers growing older and a little less dependent on me for their every need. It is also harder in a lot of mundane ways. More laundry. More food to buy, store, cook, prepare and clean up after. 5 people to have up and out the door, dressed and ready for school by 7 am each day. Media use to monitor. Emotional and spiritual needs to consider. When they were all little, it was exhausting. Now they're bigger and it's exhausting in different ways. But it may well be a bit easier.


The truth, though, is that I even though I had just had my third child and was five years into the journey of motherhood, I was still all too naive those six years ago about the cost of motherhood, the daily sacrifice of it all, that it was fun and joyful, yes, but that it was an awful lot of not-so-pretty hard work.
You see, I had spent my early mothering years assuming that the main part of my job was to have fun with my kids. I went to play group and library story time and the park and the play place. We had fun. More often than not, that meant that the laundry didn't get done and the dishes stayed in the sink and I forgot to think about what was for dinner. Y'all, we showed up at my big sister's house unannounced and stayed for dinner. All. The. Time. It is a credit to the kind of woman that she is that she never once looked me in the face and told me to march my spoiled butt home and cook dinner for my family. You see, that's just it, I entered marriage fresh from the role of the baby of the family. And it took me about 8 years to realize I wasn't the baby any more. No one was supposed to care of me. It was my job to do the care taking. Yeah, so I'm a little dense sometimes. I told you, the point was to recognize the faults.


So, what does all this have to do with mission? Well, it was hard work. And there were no play groups or library story times to run away to. And I was ill-prepared for it. It was hot and there was walking to be done. Food had to be cooked, over and over again every day. There were no chicken nuggets and my sister wasn't around the corner. Laundry and cloth diapers had to be hand washed and hung on the line (eventually I admitted I was lost cause at hand washing clothes and sourced help. And even though I claim to have grown up, I will confess, I am still untterly inept at hand-washing. Women in the third world amaze me with this skill on a daily basis.) Floors had to be mopped or else flies would invade. Water had to be warmed for baths. There was a lot to do. And suddenly, I realized, it was me who was supposed to be doing it.
I'd like to say I rose to the challenge, but the truth is, I caved under the weight of it all. Not right away, I was determined to be valiant about it at first. But eventually, a short eventually, it got to me. I felt the burden of never being done. Of it never being enough. My all or nothing tendencies got the best of me. I fought the urge to shut down and give up altogether. We were sick. Often. It made things harder. And about three months in, I started to look for early exit strategies to my one year commitment. To justify the need to go home and regroup, sure that if I just had my washer and dryer back, I could get this right.

This realization of the hard work ahead of me, the tendency for the daily sacrifice that stretches before me for years on end, my lack of perseverance in the face of it, it dogs me daily still. It followed me into two more mission posts and ate away at my zeal for this life over and over again until I convinced myself I couldn't do it, I wasn't cut out for it.

But you know what? I went "home" to my comforts -- a pretty house , a washer and dryer and dishwasher, a big car. And guess what? More babies came and all those things were still my job and life was still hard and it got harder. And I finally began to realize that this is what life is -- it's hard work. All the time. Never done. And if we live it intentionally, then we are always choosing one thing over the other, choosing the snuggle time on the couch over folded laundry, choosing dinner cooked and floors washed over an afternoon at the park, choosing football practice over a quiet evening at home. Always choosing. Always working. Never done. This is the life I signed up for when I gave my hand to my husband and my child-bearing potential to my God and made a commitment to take what came. What came was the joy of house full of boys and an awful lot of hard work. And a chance to battle back my worst faults and tendencies and seek holiness in the sacrifices those gifts presented me with. It seems an interesting choice for an all or nothing girl who was used to being the baby. Who is dogged by the tendency to give up when one day of perfection is drowned by a million days of mess and chaos and getting it wrong.
The tendency follows me still. On the days I get grumpy and fussy about the floors needing to be swept and mopped again. On the days I close the door on the bed full of laundry waiting to be folded and pour a cup of coffee instead. On the days I push the weight of it all off onto my husband and make it his fault that it's never done.

But I have done some growing up in spite of the temptations that I still battle daily. I am under no illusion  that life is anything but hard work. I have, for the most part, learned to do what I can with what I have where I am and let it be enough. I have learned to accept that it won't ever be perfect, but that perfectly folded laundry one day can be savored and enjoyed in the moment, that cake and ice cream for dinner are okay sometimes, that an afternoon reading aloud that means dishes piled in the sink til the morning is sometimes worth it. I have learned to let the choices be intentional and to let myself be enough. I have learned to ask for help rather than build resentment. I have learned that sometimes chaos reigns and there is very little I can do about it. And I fail at these lessons over and over again even though I have learned them. I have learned that joy is not something that happens outside these things, when I have the chance to put them all aside and pursue an adventure, an outing, a break. But that joy is here, if I choose it, in the sudsy sink and the clean pajamas and the early morning risings and the interrupted sleep. Joy is here because life is here. And life is the gift I chose above all in choosing this vocation, the gift I begged for and hoped for and yearn for still. And I have learned that failing doesn't mean we pack up and go home, seeking an easier way. It is an opportunity to seek forgiveness and begin again.
I remember reading this post on Katie Davis' blog and thinking I knew a little (not 14 times worth, but a little) of what she meant. The daily life of a mom in mission is not that different than the daily life of a mom anywhere else. I cook and cook again. I wash and fold and put away. I sweep and mop and sigh at the footprints that appear before I'm done. I tuck in and wake up and dress and bathe. I burn the used toilet paper. Okay, maybe you don't do that. But you get the point. And you know what, with the exception of the occasions on which I get a little cranky about it all, I am pretty much okay with the fact that this is how I spend the majority of my life. And that it is good.
I was not shocked by the piles of laundry that followed me into this mission post nor the messy bathrooms nor the dirty floors. These are my life. They are my life in the middle of suburbia and my life in the mountains of a developing nation. And they are my sanctity. They are the things that keep my faults ever before my eyes and keep me clinging to grace. And they are my joy. The constant joy and satisfaction brought by serving those most important to me in the most important of ways -- food, clothing, shelter -- home.
Yes, I'd say I'm good and grown up. A grown up sinful mess who still gets it wrong far too often? Yes. But a grown up nonetheless. And because of that, I am still here almost a year later. Not ready to run from the hard work, but instead, falling on my knees before the Lord and saying, "You want to do more? For more people? But you promise you'll help? That the grace will be there? Then, bring it, Big Guy. I'm ready."
And that, my friends, is a humbling place to be for the spoiled baby girl who'd rather sip coffee and read than mop the floors.

Linking up at Moments of Grace at Suscipio. Join us to share this week's grace in your life?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Let's Pause and Pray Often

I would venture to guess that with today's presidential elections and the future of our nation weighing heavy on the minds of many, many of us will pause often today to whisper a prayer to Lord about our hope for the future of our nation and the importance that rests in the results of today's election.

As often as we may claim that we find it difficult to find the time to pause to pray throughout the day or that life often puts us in auto-pilot mode and we forget our commitment to pray unceasingly, the truth is that when an issue looms large enough in our personal lives or our collective conscious as a family, community, church, nation or world, we remember to pray. If our spouse is on a plane or a dear friend is in labor, we remember to stop and pray. If a hurricane or other natural disaster threatens our area, we remember to pray. On the day of an important election, we remember to pray. I'll admit, I have been guilty of being selfishly attentive to prayer when something mattered to me and willfully neglectful when life was abuzz with activity and there seemed little time to slow down for anyone else's needs. But I do not want to be that way any longer. I want to battle that tendency that renders me a self-serving pray-er and be the person who pauses for the urgent needs of others, both those whose needs are close enough for me to see and those whose needs lie hidden in dark, rank brothels and trucking containers and ships in far corners of the world.

Shouldn't we strive to commit ourselves to pray the urgent, begging rescue prayer we pray for ourselves for the needs of others on a regular basis? Shouldn't we be daily pausing to beg God to pour out His mercy on a world with so many of our brothers and sisters suffering? If it was your biological brother and his family going on three years living in a tent in Haiti, would you not remember to stop and pray? If it was my younger sister missing and in danger of having been transported into a life a sexual slavery, would I know be crying out continually for her rescue and safe return? If it was my own children who did not have enough to eat today or who could contract deadly malaria at night while they slept, would I forget to pray for them? If my closest friend risked an unjustly high maternal and infant mortality rate in her pregnancy, would I remember to beg God to protect her and her baby throughout those months? The cold, hard truth is, I remember to pray when something matters to me. God, make these things matter to me. Do not let me insult the suffering and oppressed by calling them "brother" and "sister" and then bidding them to keep warm and well-fed. Press their needs upon my heart with the same urgency the needs of my biological family press on my heart. Teach me to shun self-deprecating guilt that makes me turn away from their needs as too burdensome. Keep from the temptation to put on blinders or to filter the ugly truth about the world's brokenness in order to protect my own comfort. Free me from the fear of a broken heart, for the most broken of hearts is that which keeps its hands clean by walking past the dying man on the road. Give me, Lord, the kind of prayer heart the Good Samaritan must have cultivated for days and weeks and years before the moment he stooped to lift his brother from the dirt and bind his wounds.

In her book 7, Jen Hatmaker's last mutiny against an excessive life is to slow down the pace of her life by intentionally observing prayer pauses throughout her day. Similarly, Ann has been encouraging us all to slow down and breathe, to remember that life is not an emergency, and to count all the ways He gives and loves and blesses throughout every single day. As Catholics, we live this reality in the daily prayers of the universal Church we call the Divine Office. I have been able, through grace, to cultivate a pretty good habit of praying the Morning Prayer of the Church. But that's about the only pause I remember regularly. I have many friends who are excellent about daily making these pauses and I aspire to follow their example. Technology offers us all kinds of help, like apps to pray with wherever we find ourselves at any given hour and chimes to remind us when it is time to pause. 

But I am praying to God to give me a heart that remembers. A heart that breaks for the urgent needs and real suffering of so many around the world at every given moment. A heart that shudders to think that every minute, two children are trafficked into sexual slavery on the same planet on which I live, children known and loved and named by God and destined for a future full of hope but thwarted by a perverse evil. I am going to make an effort, while I complete this series, to make my prayer pauses throughout the day, and during them, to cry out with the psalmist as he pleads for mercy on the lowly and afflicted and justice on the evil-doers. I am going to beg God to open my heart and mind so that I can pray and remember with an awareness that ignites a fire in my heart rather than locks me up in paralyzing guilt. I am going to beg God for my heart to break in such a way that I know that only He can save. And I am going to pray that I can pause in prayer so that I can be inspired to action when the moment for it arrives. 

Will you join me in pausing to pray? And let me know how you are doing with it? We can share our successes and failures and maybe help each other along the way?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Let's Persevere in Fasting

I have been trying to take action against trafficking by fasting regularly.The A21 Campaign suggests fasting on the 21st of every month as one of their 21 Ways to Help. I am really, really committed to this idea. It seems to me a good way to make the whole thing personal, root it deeply in my heart. However, I overlooked one small problem with this proposal in my enthusiasm. I suck at fasting. No, really, I am terrible at it. I commit and recommit to fasting all the time and then fall apart just a short way in to the effort.

So on the first day of fasting from freedoms, I decided I would not go to the bathroom without asking my husband's permission first. Let me say this most important thing first: Y'all, I have a husband who will grin and consent to doing these crazy things I ask of him because he gets me and the things my wildly passionate heart prompts me to do. That's pretty awesome, right?

So the day commenced with his welcoming my reluctantly articulated request. I still get shy about making myself so vulnerable even though he never once, even when there was good reason, has made me feel foolish about something important to me. And then we moved on. The first time I needed to head to the little girl's room, I was sitting by the river reading the Word and journaling. I realized I was going to need to hurry. Stopping to ask his permission was going to make this a close call. And then I remembered that my father-in-law was sitting there in my house and would be privy to this conversation. And I hesitated even longer. If it's hard to risk appearing silly to my beloved, who is always so understanding about my wild ideas and strong passionate responses, I could not even imagine doing so with my father-in-law present. I mean, don't get me wrong, he's a lovely man, but I'm not really ready to bare the mist vulnerable parts of my heart and soul to him just yet.

So by the time I finally made my way home to abashedly ask my husband's permission, I was doing the three year-old's potty dance. He smiled and give me his consent as I whispered my first sheepish request. I wanted to feel satisfied by this commitment I had made. I wanted to think profound thoughts about attempting to live in solidarity with trafficking victims who are denied basic freedoms like this every day. I didn't. I hated it. I felt stupid and foolish and raw and bared to the world. And it made we want to cry. (I told you, I'm REALLY bad at this.)

The next time I needed to go, my husband was on his way to the bank in the city. Driving in the car. With his dad. Same issue. Which for some reason was harder for me to commit to over the phone because I couldn't whisper it quietly right at the entrance to the bathroom with a blush in my cheek that my husband would know indicated my vulnerability and would respond to in love and with respect. So I cheated and went without asking.

The same mental battle ensued the rest of the day. And I didn't cheat again. But I didn't feel very inspired or successful in my efforts either. I felt foolish and weak. The next time I fasted, I decided I was going to drink water using only my cupped hands that day. I lasted an hour. (This is the craziness my family has to put up with. Y'all can add not having to live with me to your gratitude lists tonight.) I know the Bible tells us to fast in secret, and I try, but we're together in close quarters, all the time. They notice.

I have been fasting from mass produced chocolate these last weeks too, and while I haven't caved and eaten any, I will admit that the thought of trick or treat bags filled with Reese's peanut butter cups and snack sized Snickers almost brought me to tears yesterday. My flesh continues to crave, begs me to forget injustice and just feed me what feels good.

But as I have made the effort and felt the sting of my weakness, I think I have come to realize that this, this is the point of it all. We fast to be reminded of how weak we are in the flesh, how denying ourselves the smallest things makes our flesh writhe and rage against our spirit. And we know for certain the work we need to do and just how dependent we are on the mercy of our Savior.

What does all that do for trafficking victims? Well, first of all, it reminds me that the sense that it is all too big and that there is so little I can do, is real. And it brings me back to heart of the matter. If I want to make the world a better place, I have to look to Him first. The better place is the place where His kingdom has come, not mine. Which is good, because if the perseverance I show in fasting is any indication, mine would remain half-finished for eternity.

Secondly, it reminds me that their suffering is real. These little contrived fasts are a trifle compared to the reality that is life for a human slave, a little girl sold as a sex machine. And I find them hard and humiliating and fail to live them. And this keeps me praying, begging Him to save and rescue and heal these real people suffering real horrors.

Thirdly, it motivates me to try and try again. To remember that spiritual fruit is born in the working out, the long-suffering, the persevering effort at sanctity. Just as the results of action against trafficking will also bear fruit over the long length of days we remember, we pray, we fast, we fight.

And lastly, it reminds me that sometimes it is okay to admit our limitations and scale back. Perhaps drinking water out of my cupped hands was a bit overzealous? Maybe today I can just drink only water? Or skip my coffee? Or eat simply? And accept that if the effort is sincere and the prayer it inspires real, it is enough. Just as it is with this work, this action effort. I don't think I am changing the world all at one time. But I am making  progress in my own heart, in my own awareness. I am giving many friends a chance to join the action. I am making connections with others who are fighting too. And I am sincerely trying and earnestly praying. And it is enough.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Providing Meaningful Work: When God Takes the Vision

Sometimes, even though you are quite sure God is calling you to do something and wants you to put the effort into the work for now, there is this sense that the vision you are pursuing is off, is your own, not God's. I have had that nagging sense in trying to work out and think through all the details of the plans for the Blessed Zelie Martin Initiative. I was working on it and making progress, but the whole vision was sort of shrouded in a fog. And I felt all alone. Not alone as in not having a friend to work with, but alone as in I knew God was letting me work this out on my own, waiting for something, and I was steadily becoming more discouraged.

Then last week at adoration, I finally just handed it to Him. In our time of talking I told Him I was tired and uncertain. That all these big thoughts I had been thinking and all the compassion He had drawn up in me for women battling the worst forms of oppression and exploitation was too heavy a burden for me to carry. It was robbing me of energy I needed for my first and most important mission, loving service to my family. So I handed it to Him and told Him He could have it back. That if this was the fruit, I knew it was not my work for now. I put it on the altar with Him and left it there, with the prayer that if He wanted me to do this work now, here, He had to send His Spirit to lift the fog and clarify the vision so that I knew I walked in His light.

The next morning in the shower, the Holy Spirit shone through my fog, big and bold and bright, giving me a new vision and new plan that had never once entered in to all my thinking about this outreach in the past. I knew it was His time for me.

And so the Blessed Zelie Martin Initiative has become mercy covers

The link above is to our Facebook page. We are working on the web site and donate page now and hope to have it available in the next day or two. You can read about the new vision in the "About" section of the Facebook page.

Here it is in a nutshell:

The donor makes a $40 donation which serves as a contract with a member of our co-operative to produce a handmade recycled t-shirt quilt which will be given to a child in an orphanage or a survivor in a human trafficking safe house. The materials for the project and the skills training as well as work space will be provided (in our home) by the St. Bryce Foundation.

When the quilt is completed, the woman will receive a $10 cash payment for her work, $10 worth of tools for creating beaded rosaries and jewelry and $20 worth of supplies for making her first rosary, as well as the skills training for the project. 

She will then continue through additional steps in our program which include skills training in a variety of craft products which she can market locally and through our online shop, personal financial management training, English, health and other educational courses, and discipleship and fellowship.

Our goal is to contract 36 quilts by Christmas to cover the 18 beds at Salvando Corazones and the 18 beds at the orphanage with which we work here in Turrialba.

We'll be back to share the web site soon. For now, can you head over and like the Facebook page and share it with your friends? 

Edited to add the exciting news that Mercy Covers is now a Field Partner on Pure Charity and you can back our project there! Don't know yet about the Pure Charity vision? Do check it out. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Let's Not Forget

It's been a long stretch of blogging about action to end human trafficking. And I'm nearly halfway there. And to be honest, it's starting leave me tired and raw. Reading about the atrocity. Thinking about the pain and the problem and the solution. Writing letters. Waiting for results. Reading about the work of those on the front lines. Fasting in solidarity with the victims. Hurting for those who are hurting? Well, it hurts. Facing the horror and suffering wrought by the most inhumane of injustices? It painful and heartbreaking.

I have asked the question of a few friends this week. How do we know these things and live? How do we bypass ignorance or selective knowledge for action and avoid depression? How do we battle the weariness of operating machines to wash our clothes and preparing the food that feeds our families without feeling like utter failures for the Kingdom? Because on this earth where our bathrooms beg our attention and we can't find the energy to give it and where we fuss irritable at kids who won't head to beds or stop kicking a soccer ball in the house, on this earth where we raise our hands in praise to a merciful Savior, little girls live in cages and are groped by perverse men and teenage girls are being trucked across the highways of our prosperity to a life of slavery and poverty sends people running ignorant into a life of exploitation. And we bear His name and so must bear His pain at it all. And yet we must live and love and serve these in our midst and not forget our first duties. And sometimes it makes my swim and my heart beat too fast.

And then I remember that all my strength for the battle lies not in me and my weak-kneed terror at the battle, but in Him and in His victory over it all. And I remember that if He can save me from me then somehow He is able to save them. And that I am not the Savior but the sick needing saving. And on the days when I am not incapacitated by my own sickness, He mercifully lets me play the role of servant, rising up like Peter's mother-in-law to serve those in my midst. And I remember that the medicine I need to stay strong, to suffer with the suffering without breaking, to embody at the same time death and resurrection, is there in Him -- in His Word written across the ages, in His presence waiting, hidden in the facade of sustenance we call bread, in the caresses of those who love me and of the encouragement of others who love in His name. And I run back to the heart of prayer where He waits to mend my brokenness and tells me that it's okay to admit that I'm the one who needs to be rescued and healed today. That He will give me what I need and strengthen me to rise again to serve. And it takes only moments -- silent moments -- to know the grace is enough. To feel the questions that threaten to paralyze fade away and the paralysis loosen its grip. And my heart slows to rhythm of mercy once again and my feet begin to keep pace with the Spirit once more. Over and over this is how I live. This is the breaking heart of the broken.

So today, I invite you to pause and remember with me that prayer is our first weapon. It keeps the warriors fighting and heals the wounded. It moves the heart of the only real Savior and reminds us of the victory. It meets in the tomb and transforms it into resurrection glory. So if you take no more action than this today -- or tomorrow or ever -- this is something. Something big. It is the way the saints suffer and break and yet still live.

So keep praying with me? Our collective prayer:

Or the missions rosary devotions I've been contributing over at Suscipio:

and today, for Oceania.

Because He has promised that wherever two or more gather in His name, He will be in their midst. And oh how I need Him in my midst.