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.