Tuesday, September 16, 2014

domestic violence and how the NFL is not the only one getting it wrong

Headlines this past week have Eric and I talking a lot about physical abuse, the NFL, unions, cover ups and legal systems versus corporate systems. Unfortunately, big superpower forces of culture like the National Football League aren't the only ones getting it wrong.  

Almost three years ago one of my closest friends walked through the darkness of divorcing a man who became physically, verbally, emotionally and spiritually abusive after just three weeks of marriage. He had been on his best behavior to get her down the aisle, knowing her deep belief in the holy institution of marriage, but it wasn't long before the honeymoon was over, the sham was up and the man she thought she married was nowhere to be found. 

She had broken up with him at one point during their dating relationship because of his temper. And then, like a textbook abuser, he manipulated his way back into her life using words and deeds greased with spiritual language and the very scriptures she holds so dear. He had experienced spiritual transformation! It was a miracle of God! He hung his head in humility acknowledging his sin and begged for grace! He was a changed man! If she would only see for herself! How could she not extend grace? How could she not see what God was doing in him? And so she opened the door. 

It was no surprise he rushed for a quick wedding. 

Just weeks later the fighting began again. The yelling, the blaming, the accusing, the shaming, the use of scripture as a weapon, the emotional manipulation of pressing on her childhood wounds. It was the day they had planned to go down to the courthouse to legally change her name. He woke up in the early afternoon after having worked his night shift. Knowing how volatile he could be when he wasn't rested, she offered to let him relax instead of running all over town and suggested they go to the courthouse the following week. He instantly began hurling accusations at her, taking her suggestion to mean she did not really want to change her name. It didn't matter that she, as usual, was simply trying to preserve a situation in hopes to not set him off. He wadded up a piece of paper and threw it in her face. He then spit in her face. In that moment she began to break down. She couldn't win. No matter what she tried to do, no matter what she said, she was powerless to avoid his anger. She began to sob. 

At this, her new husband didn't comfort her. He didn't reassure her. He grabbed his camera and began filming her saying, "See? This is who you really are! Everyone needs to see who you really are!" Shocked by his twisted delight in her suffering and his threats to show everyone they know, she grabbed the camera and headed down the hallway. He chased after her and with one kick swept her legs out from underneath her. Her legs flew up and she fell straight onto her hip. She was in excruciating pain and unable to walk so she crawled into the spare bedroom where he grabbed her phone, threw it against the wall leaving it shattered. 

The fear of not being able to call for help overwhelmed her. She began screaming and hyperventilating and crawled into the bathroom where she dry heaved into the toilet. And then the switch flipped. Apologies and excuses flowed like a river from the mouth of the man who called himself husband. 

"You know how I get when I haven't had enough sleep." 
"You should have just stuck to our plan for the day." 
"You know this isn't how I really am." 
"You know I'm not like this."

You. You. You. You.

My friend. She was so ashamed. She had just gotten married! She made excuses for him in her mind, for the times he had locked her out of their apartment, for the times he would drive away before she could get her entire body in or out of the car, for ALL THE THINGS that led up to and happened after that day.  She wanted to believe this wasn't really him, she wanted to believe she couldn't have been so wrong. And so she didn't tell anyone. For a couple months. She was completely alone. Until one night sitting in my car in a big-box parking lot, the dam broke and she wasn't alone anymore. It took another voice, one outside of her own nightmare, a safe place, a linked arm, to tell her THIS IS ABUSE. 

She finally left.

For months she lived on our couch. While she stumbled through fears and trauma, disillusionment, identity and her own mistakes, she begged God for direction, devouring His word and surrendering herself to its power. FREEDOM. A child of oppressive and legalistic Bible teaching, her default was to figure out the rules but her relationship with Jesus kept driving her deeper. FREEDOM. She resolved to do the right thing. Whatever God said to do, she would do it. FREEDOM. She kept recounting her actions and looking for ways she could have been different. FREEDOM. Long talks every night  brought tears and truth-telling and more tears. FREEDOM. The whispers of grace began spilling into her soul. FREEDOM. Every day she grew a little stronger, a little braver, and every day Jesus would come to peel back bandages covering old wounds in need of His healing hand. FREEDOM. Eric and I witnessed the gradual transformation as color began returning to her skin, her shoulders broadened no longer hunched in cowering, her posture reclaiming its length. Slowly she began believing what Jesus was actually stirring within her. FREEDOM. Not just freedom from the charade of a marriage or the abuse, but freedom from needing the approval of others, legalism, condemnation, fear... until she would meet with her pastors. 

Where the Spirit brought freedom, they brought doctrine. Where He offered grace and His unconditional love, they offered consequences. They cared. They really did. But they cared more about how her "situation" measured up to their convictions about divorce than they did about her. Multiple male pastors from multiple churches who had connections to my friend and this man gathered together to discuss the situation and then relayed their collective position resulting in sound bytes like "the Bible clearly teaches" and "if you proceed with an unbiblical divorce you must remain single for the rest of your life".

These well meaning men raised their eyebrows when talking about how she broke up with her husband while they were dating because of his anger issues and then she chose to marry him anyway. Translation: You should have known better

They sited with honor the story of another abused women who moved out of her house to be safe but then remained "married but separate" for five years while she waited for God to change her husband's heart.  Translation: You don't have enough faith

Almost everywhere she turned she felt scarlet letter stares. According to her Christian community she may as well have been the adulterous woman because everyone felt the need to weigh in with their biblical two cents. Very few linked arms with her in unconditional love. Very few.


It kept ringing. There was what so many voices were telling her and then there was what Jesus kept whispering to her. IT IS FOR FREEDOM YOU HAVE BEEN SET FREE. DO NOT THEN PUT BACK ON THE SHACKLES OF SLAVERY. 

My friend began to move forward toward divorce. Step by step she was walking in the trust that nothing could separate her from the love of God and that the whispers of FREEDOM were in response to all her cries. She was all but alone. She left her little churchplant  because he refused to stay away and their people there didn't know what to do about that. She couldn't go back to her former megachurch home because he went there too, he grew up with that family, he had served as a part of that leadership team. She tried to go to another Bible-teaching, grace-preaching church whose pastor was a part of that initial gathering, but he told her that if she was pursuing an unbiblical divorce then it wasn't the church for her. 

The words ricocheted within the walls of her heart shredding any sense of support she had hoped for and leaving her feeling utterly abandoned. 

Verbal abuse is a real thing. 

Emotional abuse is a real thing. 

Spiritual abuse is a real thing. 

And physical abuse is sure as hell a real thing. 

The NFL is not the only one getting it wrong. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

salt + light

I like sea salt in my favorite chocolate and mixed with garlic in my killer Fischer family guac, on the rim of a margarita and loaded into Eric's infamous ceviche, but better yet is salt in my eyebrows, on the tips of my eyelashes, strung throughout my hair and crusted in my bellybutton. The ocean runs through my veins and I adore the reminder left over after every rendezvous. Water is how I understand God and the world around me so salt is not just a cooking ingredient, it's a life metaphor I get a little geeked up on.

"Let me tell you why you are here. 
You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out 
the God-flavors of this earth. 
If you lose your saltiness, 
how will people taste godliness?" 

Salt magnifies flavor. It intensifies sweetness and counteracts bitterness. Food is tastier and life is juicier when its served up S A L T Y! It takes a good thing and makes it even better. Like the perfect fish taco, or a good conversation while paddling, add a pinch of adventure or celebration to an everyday moment and viola! you just got salty. Sometimes my salty-state-of-mind looks like a neighborhood skate with my girl to tell her how amazing she is, catching a sunrise by myself in silence to remember the One who just gave me another day to live, confronting a friend in the name of love so that iron can sharpen iron, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane for the ultimate perspective, chattin' up the tech while getting an MRI on my brain without fear of what may come, or swimming with sharks simply because they are beautifully created. Taking this life, this string of moments, up a notch = F L A V O R.

Did you know salt is also a natural preservative? I love this because when used to keep food, salt draws out moisture creating an environment where gross stuff (otherwise known as pathogenic microbes) cannot grow. Living salty is to cultivate love and truth and grace, adventure and risk and connection, so that those pesky pathogenic microbes cannot take root in our souls. When we fill our hearts and minds with what is true and good, there just isn't space for what is not. And we can feel it. When we see a certain commercial or learn about an injustice it doesn't sit well with us. It disturbs us. We need a salty soul filled with who God is and who He has created us to be in order to preserve the purpose for which we were created in the first place.

Salt enhances texture. Are you a texture person? Do you mind the slippery factor of oysters on the half shell? How about soggy cereal too long in the milk? What about an original painting versus a print? Or the wrinkled skin of an old woman with many stories to tell? Salt creates texture and makes a food more interesting to our taste buds. It also makes a life more interesting to live. Did I do more than simply exist? For all my rough edges and lumps and bumps, I would rather live a salty textured life of wandering up and down and back and forth than a smooth life of boring monotony. I want to shoot oysters with lemon and a touch of Cholula, eat cereal right after the milk pours in, run my fingers over a canvas covered in oils and hear tales from storyweavers whose wrinkles go where the smiles have been and where the tears have fallen.

Salt is nutrient. Our bodies require it. So do our souls. When our physical chemistry fluctuates our body triggers a craving. For me that amounts to sliced tomatoes with salt, green apples with salt and good ol' french fries. With lots of salt. Likewise, my spiritual chemistry craves the sea to maintain balance. A child of the tides, I am drawn with a gravitational pull that rivals that of the moon. But I also live in the real world where travel is not always an option and so I choose to practice beauty locally which means putting on my "perspectacles" and remembering that lakes and rivers are oases too.

And it binds. Salt is often used as a binding agent in foods. Living salty binds us to each other. We gravitate toward those who value what we value. That's easy. Loving the lovable requires zero risk and yields endless reward. But that's not the extent of saltiness. A salty soul also links arms with those whose saltiness may have been stolen or oppressed or just plain forgotten about and pulls them back into their own living color. Living salty gives permission to others to live fully alive too!

These girls are salty permission-givers and only two of them are coastal:

My girl Sarah is pure salt and inspire me like mad!  

Kelsey over here is currently in Uganda kicking a$$ and taking names actually doing the work and modeling orphan prevention.

Monica lives the ultimate salty lifestyle while raising a crew of groms and witnessing the beauty of creation on the North Shore every damn day.  

This one reminds me that gentleness props open doors and that Jesus truly is a revolutionary. 

This chick doesn't mince words and tells stories advocating for one of our favorite orgs.

Wherever you live, whatever you do, find the flavor this week!

“Here’s another way to put it: 
You’re here to be light, 
bringing out the God-colors in the world. 
God is not a secret to be kept. 
We’re going public with this, 
as public as a city on a hill. 
If I make you light-bearers, 
you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? 
I’m putting you on a light stand. 
Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, 
on a light stand—shine! 
Keep open house; be generous with your lives. 
By opening up to others, 
you’ll prompt people to open up to God."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

trafficking: scene 4 - friends don't let friends stay ignorant

...and then there were three. 

Strip club outreaches had come and gone. There was even the one where I was seriously pregnant with a broken foot in a huge air cast and decided to go in the club anyway. That must've been a quite a sight. I'm pretty sure I took up every inch of extra space in that tiny backstage dressing room trying to "think skinny" and not take out anyone's stilettos with my club foot. One of our team girls got married and moved to a different city. Another got a killer job in a different state. Christy and her husband adopted a baby, Jen and her husband were raising a tribe while the economy was crumbling, I left my job at our church and then Eric and I left our church right before I delivered Garrett. Times they were-a changin'. 

And so the dust settled and the three of us remaining sat around Jen's pedestal dining room table one night asking questions of purpose and digging for direction when they brought it up. AGAIN. 


Children being held as slaves and raped for profit. 

Shit. Here we go again. This wasn't the first time. Jen and Christy kept wanting to talk about this and I kept not wanting to talk about this. Lalalalala! (inserting fingers into ears) I can't heeeeeear you! Talk about the clubs always led to talk about massage parlors which always led to talk about this new phrase "sex-trafficking" which always led to my pulse racing and thoughts of locking my babies in their rooms for the rest of their lives so that no bad guys could ever hurt them while I cry myself to sleep, if I could even sleep, every night imagining the horrors that are real life for millions of children across this crazy spinning blue ball. 

B R E A T H E. 

I knew there would be no going back. I just knew I wouldn't be able to unknow the things my friends wanted to tell me. The things they wanted me to read, to watch. ALL THE THINGS. I just knew the sounds of their words would carve into my flesh, ring in my ears, flash across my thoughts and I wouldn't be able to unravel those threads from the dendrites in my brain creating new pathways of thinking making me different and leaving me altered. There would be no blissful ignorance. No peace. No rest. No way to turn it off. And I was afraid. I was afraid I would be rendered paralyzed with fear, shrunken into a corner where I would be found sucking my thumb in a pool of my own tears. And yet I was equally afraid that knowledge would equal power and power would equal responsibility and responsibility would mean I would have to do something. 

My sweet friends, they were so patient and gentle with me. They didn't force me into the darkness that night at the table. They didn't chastise me for my fear and my idol of comfort. They simply kept inviting me further in, reminding me all the while of the light we each held and it's power to push back the darkness. We cried tears over what needed to be known that night and then they challenged me to a date in the future. Months and months from that night Christy and her husband would be hosting an awareness night for a local anti-trafficking non-profit and she challenged me to put it on my calendar.  I didn't want to. I didn't want to go and learn, but it was far enough away for me to either muster up some courage or find a reason to cancel so I plugged the date into my phone. 

Meeting adjourned. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Exodus Road: search & rescue

Thursday, August 21, 2014

trafficking: scene 3 - my first strip club

...Fast forward five years.

Black lights. Velvety carpet. One stage. Clusters of lounge chairs. End tables spilling over with empty glasses. Flatscreens blaring UFC. A long bar with no one sitting on the stools.

"Just walk straight to the back," they said. 

It was my first time in a strip club so I couldn't help but look around. I wanted to remember this place. Where the girls work. What it feels like. What it sounds like. What it smells like. So I didn't keep my eyes on the back of the head in front of me in our single file line back to the dressing room. I looked around. 

They glared. So many eyes glowing out of the dark and fixed in our direction as we passed. Like a pack of wolves looking up from their bloody kill in a NatGeo night vision documentary, it was clear we were intruding. Some of the eyes looked at us with hunger. Others with skepticism. All of them with pain. 

"Just get to the dressing room," they said. 

One last look and I caught a glimpse of our team. There was a glow. Not one of us was wearing white or any color that would have brightened under the black lights. Most of us wore some combination of black, but we were definitely glowing. Maybe I'm the only one who saw it. Maybe not. But in that moment I understood so clearly that the covering of prayer thanks to the husbands of ours sitting out in the parking lot, and the flames within each of us compelling us to love in dark spaces, were literally pushing back the darkness and making a way for us to pass through. 

Obviously my girl Jen didn't take my Thanks, but I'll pass as my final answer. Eric and I had moved to southern California to work in student ministry at the small Christian college where he had done his undergrad work and then we came back a few degrees later after the birth of our first to be near family. Jen was right there ready with another invitation. Her words fell on different ears that time, ears that had listened to girls who had been abused, exploited, blackmailed, addicted to porn, desperate for attention, searching for value, in lesbian relationships, dating married men and considering ending their life. It got real, real quick. 

That season was one of the richest and most pivotal of my life as I learned who the Church really is, in the words I first read from Brennan Manning, "just a beggar telling other beggars where to get bread". Those years were the backdrop for the dismantling of the flawed good choices/bad choices philosophy of earning from my youth and the sowing of the understanding that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. 

During our years at the university I was given an unfortunate front row seat to one of the most powerful examples of this I have ever seen. We had a female student who was in an abusive relationship with someone who convinced her to take nude photos during their sexual encounters. When she attempted to end the relationship he sent her photos to the President of the university in an attempt to get her expelled. She was so ashamed and so very scared. Her parents had to be notified, but we all wept as her father came running to protect her. Not to condem her. It didn't matter what she had done. It didn't matter what mistakes had been made. He scooped her up and took her home. She was his girl. End of story. 

I'm bawling just recalling those days. 

So when Jen invited me into the clubs, once again, my heart had been primed. I was in. That first night was life changing because, while God had used our years at the college to show me the wounding in the lives of his children, He was about to begin schooling me in the state of my own heart and the catalyst was about to get lit.

Our small team of girls spent an hour backstage at the club. We came bearing gifts since it was the Christmas season. Goodie bags filled with hand picked items were given to each dancer, one who cried because she had never received a gift from anyone in her entire life. Her. Entire. Life. Another cried because she was so relieved to now have something to give her daughter for Christmas. Another girl cried because she couldn't believe there were no strings attached. We sat around the mirrored room under the bright vanity bulbs talking shop about makeup and costumes as well as family and dreams for our lives. Oh the dreams! The girls brimmed over with hopes and plans and somedays and there was just so much more to them than their platform shoes and tassels. Weaving our own dreams together with theirs we shared love and grace and Jesus. Soft hearts shed tears over supporting children, sick family members who need surgery, working their way through college and just working to keep the lights on. Hard hearts steeled themselves against us telling us from a distance about "draining the paychecks of those sorry assholes". One girl wouldn't even acknowledge us. She hated that we were there. She hated that we were nice. She hated that we cared. She just kept applying her tanning spray and glitter. More tan. More glitter. She, too, made it clear that we were intruding.

No matter their story, all of the dancers were fighting for power. Power over the men who consumed them on a nightly basis. Power over the house management that convinced them they were in control all the while treating them as commodities and enabling their bondage. Power over their circumstances. Power over the woundings in their hearts that over time taught them that their sexual glory was their greatest weapon and best chance at getting what they needed in life. Power over their desperation to feel beautiful. Power over each other for fame. Power over their fear of rejection. Power to detach and not even care.  

Our time was up. We packed up to leave saying goodbyes and next-times and as we resumed our single file line through the dressing room doors and back into the den of wolves, eyes adjusting back to the black-lit darkness, I glanced around the floor. There were no wolves. No glowing eyes staring us down and warning us to leave. There was no kill being devoured. There were only chains. In that moment I saw every man  shackled to the floor, unable to move. Eyes pleading. Powerless against their own destruction. 

Look around. Both sides of this power struggle house prisoners

But Jesus wasn't done speaking just yet. I turned to the stage to see one of our new friends performing. 

My Beloved, you're not that different from her. Your hearts share the same cries.

That was it. The match was lit on a fuse set to destroy my churched-up pride reducing me to a pile of rubble at the foot of the cross. 

I love her just as much as I love you. There is nothing you can do to make Me love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make Me love you less. Nothing. Not. A. Thing. 

That moment, walking past the bar toward the exit door as if it were all a slow motion dream, my mind was blown. The scales tipped so dramatically on the way in were looking pretty even on the way out. I got it in that kind of way that changes everything.  I was overwhelmed with compassion seeing that the girls just wanted their Father to come running to protect them, to scoop them up and take them home. The men in chains were actually the ones being consumed by their own insatiable appetites filling bottomless holes with desperation. But it wasn't an exchange of power. The dancers were not any more in control. It was the darkness. The air inside the club was thick with shadow and heavy to breathe in but one thing was clear ---> the only thing more powerful than the darkness is the light. 


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

these are the Wonder Years

Never before had I seen so many Jeep Commanders on the road as when we were in the market to buy one. With the click of a Craigslist ad, all of a sudden they were everywhere I looked! Every intersection, every parking lot, were Jeep Commanders actually the most popular car that month? I must've been right on trend, right? Nah. There was no surge in demand. They were always there. I just didn't notice. 

The same is true for injustice. The word justice might be trending hot these days but it is nothing new. There has always been oppression and abuse and there have always been warriors of truth and light. We just haven't always noticed. 

Funny thing about injustice... the more we stare it in the face, the more we see it's fine lines and nuanced trace and the more questions we ask about its origins. How did we get here? How is it that we think we are so progressive and advanced and yet another young black boy is gunned down in the street by those who are sworn to protect? 

How is it that yesterday while I'm on the elliptical watching an episode of The Wonder Years, a show set in the 1960's - THAT'S FIFTY YEARS AGO - featuring 8-tracks and black and white TV, and the themes are exactly the same as today's headlines. Voices of hope speaking out against oppression, young people determined to believe in peace and love, a black minister from the south leading a crowded mall toward his dream of freedom. I'm on the freaking elliptical in tears friends, me and Kevin Arnold's teacher-crush Miss White, because the peace they were desperate for then is the peace we are desperate for now. The arguments at their dinner table are the same arguments rippling across this country still. Race, war, justice, oppression, peace, love, truth, freedom. 

It's easy to acknowledge the sins of our histories. It's not so easy to admit the sins of right now. Today. The things that are happening in our homes and neighborhoods. 

Yesterday, in our neighborhood, groups of police officers were walking door to door. We weren't afraid. We didn't close the curtains and lock the door pretending not to be home. We walked out front, waved them down and spent almost a half hour talking about proactive neighborhood alliances with city and university police. They were going door to door handing out brochures about neighborhood unity and resources and discussing ASU's student move-in with residents in the area. We laughed and joked and told stories about the crazy things that come with living so close to ASU giving credit to our respectful college-kid nextdoor neighbors who inform us about their parties and bring us bottles of wine the day after. If they weren't on duty they probably would've stayed for a beer. And when Garrett came running home from his friend's house down the street and joined our front yard crowd, he acted shy but his only real concern was whether or not the officers had stickers. 

If we only pay attention to those officers in our yard, on our street, in our neighborhood and we only ask questions about getting stickers, well, we won't see injustice. However, if we allow ourselves the eyes to see and ears to hear and we concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters, even on a small scale, asking questions about personhood and privilege we will see injustice. Every intersection, every parking lot. No, it's not a trend, not just the latest popular thing to do. It's that we are just now paying attention. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

trafficking: scene 2 - thanks, but I'll pass

A year had passed since that first night with the high school students and Jen and I had become quick friends, as tends to happen when you share the deep stuff right off the bat. Her instant honesty on that first night set such a trajectory of depth for our friendship which is why I was not one bit surprised when she upped the ante one Sunday standing on the sidewalk near the nursery of our then-church. 

Jen invited me to join her and a small group of girls who go backstage at strip clubs to hang out with the dancers. There were people bustling past us picking up their kids after service. Parents jostled for position as they craned their necks to get a glimpse of their little one in Sunday school. I wondered if any of them had heard her say strip club. Jen couldn't have cared less and I loved that about her. Her freedom gave me permission to not care either, but I still declined the invite. 

I mean, what could I possibly contribute? I had zero street cred.    

I wasn't afraid. I wasn't judgmental. I just genuinely didn't see how I could connect. Jen? I mean, hello, she could relate. Me? At that point I was just a rule-following Jesus girl subconsciously banking on the church-driven behavioral economy of good choices = good life, bad choices = bad life. How would I be a good fit for this kind of thing? 

Thanks, but I'll pass.trafficking