Archive | October, 2016

When Modern-Day Slavery Becomes Personal

I could be her.

This wasn’t my first thought, but it’s the conclusion that eventually transformed my perspective on modern-day slavery.

Her face was listed among countless others on the internet. Every last one of her teeth had been removed. For marketing purposes. Her lifeless eyes haunted me when I laid down to go to sleep at night.

Her dignity and worth stripped down to nothingness.

Though I’d probably never meet this girl, I was compelled to pray for her. A torrent of tears overwhelmed me each time I tried to discuss the matter with God.

I felt helpless, hopeless, and quite certain that my prayers lifted up to heaven from underneath the comfort of a down blanket could never make the tiniest shred of difference in this war on humanity.

I called her Sarah even though God knew her real name. For the longest time, that’s all I could do. Just pray. Lift my voice on behalf of the girl whose smile was stolen. Mostly they were angry, bitter prayers.

A fearful darkness crept over me. Sometimes, in the middle of my prayer, I couldn’t breathe. I saw precious life in those eyes. A girl with big, bold dreams.

Somehow, I never saw myself.

I came to terms with how little I knew about modern-day slavery, particularly sex trafficking. Turning my head the other way no longer worked, so I started asking questions. I quit worrying how the answers would affect me.

Most left me altered.

“How could I ever understand her world? Or walk with her?” I asked God. “How could my words ever make a difference?”

My understanding of trafficking was limited to the kidnapped girl chained to a bed in a cellar. I didn’t recognize the prostitute on the street corner who appeared to be in control of her life as a victim, too.

Never before had I considered that a girl can become a trafficking victim just because she is hurt and searching. I didn’t yet understand the slow and methodical way that evil uses trust and love as lures.

Preying upon vulnerability, evil profits from brokenness over and over and over again.

I failed to comprehend that many of the women caught up in this industry will eventually come to accept their lifestyle as shame quietly convinces them that this is all there is.

I didn’t see, because I wasn’t looking.

Though an entire world spanned the difference between Sarah’s heart and mine, one day all that changed. God began to let me see myself in her defeated eyes. I realized I could be her. Nameless face. Crushed spirit. I could be the girl without a smile.

Modern-day slavery became personal that day.

I’ve been broken. Searching. Hurting. Shame has whispered the very same lies, and I’ve listened like I had no other option.

I could be her.

It was a terrifying yet necessary realization. Though I wanted more than anything to run from the thought, I let myself feel the suffocating weight of it.

That possibility changed my perspective entirely.

Eventually, every excuse, every judgment, every misconception, and every lie became exposed by the light of God’s truth. The darkness over me subsided, and God replaced the old picture in my mind with something brand new.

When I prayed for Sarah, I no longer saw her in that hopeless state. I began to see her beautiful smile. I heard laughter deep in her soul.

Because of the cross, Sarah and I can share the same story of hope. No, I’ve never met her. I don’t know the rest of her story, but I do know this: Jesus has the power and desire to rescue her.

The good news isn’t all that good if I don’t believe that.

Modern-day slavery is a personal issue. 20.9 million faces with hopes and dreams and names. Even though we could never conjure up the realities required to truly understand, we can stand with Sarah and all the others who share the exact same horrifying story.

Modern-day slavery is a personal issue.

Start somewhere. Learn more. Ask the questions you’re afraid to ask. Give. Volunteer. Pray, and ask God to make it personal for you, too.

Any one of us could be her.

I don’t know exactly how God will use either of us in this fight, but He has called us all to battle the darkness from a place of hope and to believe wholeheartedly that He can and will win this war. Are you in?

Jesus loves you… and her.

Kelly

 

Resources

The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking by Mary Frances Bowley 

This book provides a profound picture of our willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with survivors of sex trafficking.

Traffic Cam App by Exchange Initiative 

TraffickCam allows anyone with a smartphone to help fight sex trafficking by uploading photos of hotel rooms when they travel.

 

Local Ministries

Redeemed Ministries HoustonRedeemed Ministries  {Austin, Dallas, Houston, Chicago}

Provides holistic care to adult women sex trafficking victims, and operates a four-bed safe house (1 of 2 in Texas).

 

Free the Captives Free the Captives {Houston}

Fights the exploitation and trafficking of Houston’s youth, and hosts the Houston Human-Trafficking Conference.

 

Jesus Said LoveJesus Said Love

{Waco, Dallas, San Antonio, Killeen, College Station, Houston, East Texas} Visits commercial sex establishments to build authentic relationships.

 

 

 

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HER STORY: No More Shame

As soon as we walked in, a man behind the counter asked, “Can I help you?” My friend, Christina, cleared her throat and answered, “Yeah, I’d like to get a tattoo?” It sounded more like a question than a request.

We made our way to a narrow bench across the room. She fiddled with her phone, pulling up the image one more time. Though she was unswerving in her decision, viewing the letters in scrolling succession seemed to refresh her confidence.

Soon, the same man called Christina over to his station, and I sat down on a stool nearby. He worked quietly with steady hands. I wondered what she would say if he asked about the word she’d carefully chosen to have inked permanently on her right wrist. He never did.

We masked nervousness with giggles, and I awkwardly snapped pictures with her phone. Inside, I was fighting back tears. I was so proud of my brave and beautiful friend. I knew this was more than a whim; it was a sacred moment I was honored to witness.

Afterwards, while she listened to instructions for how to care for her skin, Christina couldn’t take her eyes off her wrist. She looked different—not just that raw 3-inch by 1-inch area of skin. This change was much deeper. Her entire countenance had been altered somehow.

I saw a girl who knew in the deepest part of her soul that she was loved and accepted.

HER STORY: No More Shame

This is her story.

When the enemy inserts his lies into a broken home filled with broken hearts, he can wreak all kinds of havoc within its walls. Christina’s home was no different. At the age of eighteen, she found herself heart-broken and searching.

She wanted to be seen. She longed to be known. Though she didn’t yet know its name, a heaviness weighed on her. She desperately wanted to believe that she was enough, but something deep inside of her felt unfixable. Emptiness grew with time.

After years of searching, she acquired only one thing: an unsolicited veil of shame.

Back when Christina was in elementary school, Joel Cates drove his oversized van to the apartment complex where she lived with her mother and older sister. He took Christina and several other kids to church every Sunday.

As she told me about the day Joel prayed with her, I recognized more than just a distant childhood memory. It was like a cherished handwritten note, worn at the creases, that she carefully unfolded to remember. I could tell she kept it tucked away in a special corner of her mind.

Brenda worked as a custodian at the same church. Christina was close friends with Brenda’s daughter, Melissa. The girls used to help Brenda clean once the church emptied its halls and closed its doors. Brenda taught Christina how to perfect pristine vacuum lines.

Brenda read to the girls out of her own thick leather bible. Christina felt at home listening to story after story, not at all fazed by teeny, tiny words or the absence of pictures. Here, she was loved and cherished, and most of all, noticed.

Christina made her way back to church many years later, believing she would be welcome. In her mind, church was full of people like Joel and Brenda. It didn’t take long for her to feel shame’s weight, so she came up with a plan.

When she told her story, she left out the parts that evoked shame.

In a way, she disowned her story. She covered up, because the shame was so thick it seemed like her only option. Somewhere along the way, God whispered to her that in order for Him to redeem her story, she would have to pick up the whole entire thing, war-torn and broken, and place every piece in His hands.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame compels us to cover up anything that makes us feel dirty, unwanted, unlovable, or less than.

When shame first entered the scene back at Eden, covering up looked like prickly leaves held against bare skin. When Adam and Eve figured out that their own coverings didn’t do the job, they ran from God and hid.

Before sin, shame did not exist; nor did the practice of hiding or covering. But with one fell swoop, a sinister lie dramatically changed the landscape of paradise, and the lie reverberates to this day.

Shame convinces us that we cannot come to God.

About a month before that day in the tattoo studio, Christina’s daughter was given a psalm to memorize for a school assignment. Christina read David’s words in Psalm 34 over and over again, thinking they were just words on a page for her little girl. One day, she started to believe that it might be more than just an ordinary assignment.

She started to wonder if God was whispering something personal to her. The longer she listened, the more confident she became that the Creator of the universe was inviting her to imagine something brand new.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5

It was an invitation to walk into His light and become a whole new person in Him. Radiant. It is her new name, given to her by her Father in heaven who loves her and knows how hard she’s tried to cover up and hide. His promise was clear to her that day:

Come to Me. Let Me take your shame and cover you with My righteousness—not your own, for your righteousness will only lead to hiding. Let Me clothe you in Light. No more hiding, no more covering. No more shame, because you were made for more.

Letting Jesus lift that veil of shame required intense trust. As I watched that needle inscribe the word radiant across the delicate inside of her wrist, I knew that she was His, and she was free.

radiant

Shame cannot survive in the presence of a radiant God.

Shame persuades us that we will only feel secure if we master the art of covering up, so we spend our time trying so hard to clean ourselves up. But as Jesus took His last breath on the cross, the veil separating us from God was completely torn in two.

Jesus didn’t hang there for only part of our brokenness. He took all of it on His shoulders so that we could come to God unhindered. All the sin, all the shame, all the hurt. All on Him.

God called Adam and Eve out of hiding. In a vivid display of mercy, He covered them with the skins of animals right before they left the garden. The blood shed that day shines a spotlight on the once-and-for-all sacrifice God made through Jesus. His blood restores all that is broken. Every part.

The perfect, unblemished Lamb of God took on all the sin and shame of this entire broken world so that we could be clothed in His righteousness as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. His grace draws us out of hiding, His blood reverses the effects of shame, and His forgiveness sets us free.

His love redeems every part of our story.

God calls out to us as we crouch in the thick, shadow of shame. He calls us by a new name and invites us to step into His radiant light where we are fully seen, fully loved, fully forgiven, and fully free.

Christina’s story has inspired me to ask God which parts of my own story I need to hand over to Him. Is there a part of your story Jesus is asking you to surrender?

Kelly

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The Contentment Secret

I’ve been chasing it most of my life. Contentment. Not the hold-your-breath-because-it’ll-be-gone-before-you-know-it kind—real contentment driven by gratitude.

Since the first man and woman messed up and missed out on a God-created paradise, we’ve been grasping after the notion for generations. Either we fear others will mess it up for us, or God Himself might choose to mess it up just to mess with us.

If we’re not fearing the worst, we’re convinced we’re missing out on something better, something more. As a culture, we’re fully saturated in not enough mentality.

True contentment—an authentic satisfaction of embracing who we are and what we have and where we are and how we’re wired rather than wanting more or something entirely different—can only be fostered by returning to the place where our God-given identity was stolen.

The Way Back to Eden

The contentment chase masks itself as a deep, unrelenting desire to return to Eden.

God created a place with boundaries of protection for mankind to be fully loved, fully engaged, fully ourselves. But the serpent told a lie, and Adam and Eve handed over the truth for a bite of something that wasn’t better after all.

I haven’t always recognized that God’s removal of Adam and Eve from Eden was an act of mercy. Genesis 3 records the whole story. The last verse of the chapter leaves a vivid picture of the heavy consequence of disobedience.

“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24

At one point in my life, these words at the bottom of the page in my bible sounded so harsh. At the top of that same page, I found words like, “…they felt no shame.”

I have so far to go, but I return to those tissue paper pages again and again for something new, for some undiscovered aspect of His character He’s yet to reveal to me. Each time, I am overwhelmed in a good and humbling way.

Today when I read about humanity thrust from paradise, angels blocking the way, and a hot, flaming sword in the middle of it all, I see glimpses of a deeper meaning.

Here’s an invitation to view Paradise Lost through the lens of Paradise Restored.

Sin separates us from a holy, perfect God, yet the angels display God’s mercy towards sinners.  The flaming sword was evidence that man became enemies with God when sin entered paradise. But it also represents God’s protection against the lies that led us all down this broken road in the first place.

The tree of life is believed to have had the effect of confirming a person in his or her moral state. By removing man and woman from the garden, God was in fact saving us from ourselves.

Later in the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for building an ark that would become His meeting place with His people. Though it’s tempting to view Adam and Eve’s expulsion as abandonment, it’s just not true. God never left them on their own.

Golden cherubim with outstretched wings and faces looking downward in reverent awe adorned the top piece, also called the mercy seat. From the place between those angels of gold, God spoke to His people. (See Exodus 25:18-22)

The angels weren’t a reminder that they had screwed up and gotten kicked out of the garden; they represented God’s promise to rescue and redeem what was lost in the garden.

God has been paving the narrow way back ever since.

The noun translated “mercy seat” is related to the verb that means “to make atonement.” A sacrifice had to be given to make atonement. One thing was required: blood on the mercy seat. (See Leviticus 16)

Fast-forward to the third day following Jesus’ death: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:41-42

Within a garden paradise, sin obliterated what God created for us to enjoy: unhindered relationship with Him. Centuries later, God accomplished redemption… in a garden.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” John 20:11-12

An empty tomb. Two angels. One at the head and one at the foot. The mercy seat of God. Jesus was the atonement, God’s perfect sacrifice. His blood on the mercy seat secured the way to forgiveness and restoration with the Father forever.

When Mary saw Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. When she realized it was Him, she grabbed hold of Him.  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

Jesus is the Way back.

We’ve all longed for something we thought would bring satisfaction or fulfillment. Lies from long ago lure us into thinking we’ll find contentment if we can just wrangle it somehow. Sometimes, we crave what is undeniably harmful; other things don’t seem at all dangerous until we really start examining our hearts.

If we’re honest, we settle all too easily for a fractured form of contentment. The fall left a huge, gaping hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Only Jesus. He is the Way back to Eden.

I’m not talking about a place or even a set of circumstances; true paradise is found in a relationship with a holy God who meets every need and fills every longing. The word Eden can be traced back to the root word meaning “delight.”

Every heart was designed to delight in Jesus.

We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience true contentment. Some things we do have to wait for—like the absence of pain and death and darkness. Some seasons of life are harder than others. These are the realities of life here on earth.

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about contentment. He shared with them the secret he had discovered.  He said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13, emphasis added)

Jesus is the way back to unhindered communion with the Father. True contentment is possible here and now through Jesus—no matter your circumstance or season.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What I’m Learning About Change This Fall

What I'm Learning: Fall EditionI love fall, but I can’t stand change. God whispers His language of change, and I can’t decide whether to spring to my feet and dance or run away and hide. Change excites, and change unsettles. Most of the time, change does both.

This fall, I’m learning how God uses the strain of change to draw my heart closer to Him.

Change is inevitable. It illustrates a good and promising sign of growth. We cannot experience transformation without change. If I’m honest, though, I’d rather stay stuck in my tidy, fenced-off, comfort zone.

When my heart experiences the excitement of change, it’s usually a good indicator that my eyes are focused on the new thing God is doing. Unsettledness in my soul often reveals I’m still clinging to the old thing. I tend to release it to God more confidently when I’m honest about what I fear. But still, it’s a struggle.

Maybe the trouble is our aversion to grief.

Why do we think we can let go of the old without allowing grief to do its deep heart work? Maybe it has to do with our desire to bypass grief, because grief is so slow and unpredictable. Sometimes, we’d rather not experience the pain of grief, but our hearts weren’t designed to rush into change without acknowledging the struggle.

Our hearts weren't designed to rush into change without acknowledging the struggle.

There is no way around grief. No detour or fast lane through. We cannot rush grief, and we cannot ignore it. Grief doesn’t indicate that God has failed us. Grief encourages us to admit that something is not right and we need God to make it right. We need an unchanging God to be our constant.

Grief invites us to experience the wonder of a God who cannot and will not ever change.

Maybe somewhere along the way, we’ve started to believe that grief diminishes the good that’s coming. Before the Israelites entered the promised land under Joshua’s leadership, they mourned the death of Moses for thirty days. (See Deuteronomy 34:8) They were right on the cusp of God giving them everything He had promised, but they didn’t dismiss their much needed season of grief.

Before Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, Jesus wept with Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. The crowds that had gathered observed His deep love for His friend. (See John 11:33-43) Yes, grief is a sign that we’ve loved well, but the story doesn’t end there.

When Lazarus walked out of the tomb, God was demonstrating what He would soon accomplish in raising Jesus from the dead, only this time it would be permanent. No more death. No more darkness. No more grief.

When I reflect on my own need for change, grief should be my first response to the weight of my sin. Only in experiencing brokenness can I fully accept Jesus’ love for me. Grief is first, and next is precious, abundant joy for the new life He’s given me—a life I do not deserve.

The gospel is the very intersection of my desperate need to be changed and an immutable God who is willing and able to change me.

Fall paves the path to winter, and spring follows. We cannot skip winter. The cold of winter enhances the radiance of spring. Fall reminds us that this transformation is about to occur right before our eyes. We can’t stop it, and we wouldn’t want to. Not really.

It reminds us that our Creator is in control of the seasons just as He is in control of our ever-changing lives. It reminds us that we, too, need Him to change us moment by moment, season by season. Again and again and again.

Give your heart permission to slow down and savor the change all around you this fall. May this transitioning season draw you closer to the One who makes all things—hard things and awkward things and yes, even dead things—alive and new.

What are you learning this fall?

Kelly

 

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