Peace on earth.

Ephesians 2: 14, 17: For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Life feels chaotic.

Yet I’m reminded this morning that Christ came into this chaos as a child.  His parents’ lives were chaotic.  The place and time He was born into was chaotic.  God’s redeeming plan for a chaotic world.

And so this morning as I sit in my own personal chaos, and sit with the painful chaos of this world, I am encouraged that God sees it all, the big and seemingly small.

He sees Syrian refugees, facing the ultimate chaos of losing home, family, safety.

He sees those killed by gun violence. He sees families left behind. Lives in chaos.

He sees my Grandpa, whose body has been hit with the chaos of cancer.

He sees my clients, kids dealing with internal and external chaos no child should ever face.

And he sees my own chaos, my planner full with appointments, my messy house, my long list of tasks to do.

Because He is the God who SEES.  A God who is with us in the chaos of it all.  Emmanuel.

This is not the way the world was meant to be, friends.  In the beginning God created the perfect world out of chaos.  We’ve messed it up here, East of Eden, bringing chaos back into the picture.

Jesus’s birth, death and resurrection is God’s redeeming story for bringing peace to chaos.  It’s a story He continues to write through His people.  We are part of the story.

And so today, and this Advent season, I’m trying to rest in and share the Peace that passes all understanding.  Our God, Emmanuel, who brings peace into chaos, both big and small.

John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

fifty shades of violence

I didn’t plan on writing this.  But yesterday I was standing on the corner of 1st and Pike downtown Seattle, just in front of Pike Place Market.  And there, prominently displayed, towering above yet another Starbucks was the billboard: “Mr Grey will see you now.”  In one frame I could see this, and the flashing lights of “Showgirls” on 1st Avenue all across from one of the most prominent tourist attractions in the city.

My stomach sank in an instant.

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and I have no intention to.  I have absolutely no desire to see the movie releasing this weekend.  But I’ve read enough summaries and quotes to know that this is no romance, this is abuse.  I work with women every week who have been manipulated, coerced, and controlled by men like Christian Grey.  They would not call this harmless.  We should not call it entertainment.

I’ve been seeing articles pop up almost daily this week around this topic, some of which have some profound truths to share.  I’ve included quotes and links from a few of my favorites:

50 SHADES OF PROPAGANDA: HOW YOU ARE BEING INDOCTRINATED TO SEXUAL VIOLENCE — http://iwantrest.com/blog/post/50-shades-of-propaganda-how-you-are-being-indoctrinated-to-sexual-violence

“Fifty Shades of Grey, billed as “romantic erotica,” tells the fictitious story of a Seattle billionaire who enlists a woman to be an object of his degrading and violent sexual acts. The billionaire is partial to BDSM—a term encompassing the practices of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. The woman must sign a contract, agreeing to full submission – relinquishing control over her body, diet, hygiene, sleep, and wardrobe.”

“But, let me say clearly, sexual violence is not “normal” and we should cringe every time we see it – not pay money, buy popcorn and coke, and expect to be entertained by it. What are we doing?”

“Sexual violence is not normal. Rape and torture are not entertainment. Sexual violence is devastating to the millions of people who endure it. At REST, we have seen its consequences first hand. Some of you may make the distinction that the woman in Fifty Shades of Grey, “opted-in.” But, in the majority of cases of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic violence, exploited people appear they’ve chosen to participate, only later to say that felt powerless and lacked agency. Don’t be fooled.”

THE REAL ABUSE AT THE HEART OF ‘FIFTY SHADES OF GREY’ — http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/fifty-shades-grey-and-abuse

“Upon closer inspection, Fifty Shades of Grey is not just harmless “mommy porn.” it clearly depicts a deeply abusive relationship in which its protagonist suffers emotional and physical violence at the hands of her partner. And, worst of all, it doesn’t seem to realize this.”

“Both exhibit textbook signs of abuse: Christian, the so-called love interest, actively stalks Ana, purchasing her place of work and tracking her whereabouts through an app on her phone (“No place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone—remember?”). He controls her behaviors, her food intake, and dictates who she is allowed to spend her time with, isolating her from friends and family. He belittles her, threatens her and blames her. As a consequence, Ana is afraid of making Christian angry, afraid to talk to her friends, and insecure in her own personhood (“He’d probably like to beat seven shades of s*** out of me. The thought is depressing”).”

“The marketing for the film is sickening: posited as “an incredible fairytale love story,” encouraged as a date-night movie, and set to release just in time for Valentine’s Day, Fifty Shades barrels ahead without an ounce of self-awareness—or, perhaps, of conscience. The abusive behaviors are treated as adorably flirtatious interaction; here, domestic violence is met with the enthusiastic approval of the story’s protagonists.”

“The message is clear: by turning these same behaviors around to market them as “romance,” this film effectively silences the experience of millions of victims of abuse.  By setting it up as romantic, this movie sends out the toxic message that, in the end, you can change your abuser. It tells sufferers that their experience is invalid, and, like Anastasia, they should learn to accept and enjoy their situation.”

“Fifty Shades fills the shape of violence and abuse with the concept of romance, and this is the most dangerous tactic E.L. James could have used, whether or not she realizes this. We cannot continue to mistake infatuation for romance, or obsession for love.”

DON’T LET FIFTY SHADES OF GREY RUIN YOUR VALENTINE’S WEEKEND — http://verilymag.com/christian-grey-fifty-shades-of-grey-movie-domestic-violence/

“For those who have not read the book, a short recap will be useful. The “hero” of the book, 28-year-old Christian Grey, is a wealthy sexual sociopath who targets and cajoles an emotionally and sexually unsophisticated 21-year-old, Anastasia Steele (who often sounds so naive and immature that she could easily pass for an adolescent), into agreeing to sadistic sex that leaves her sometimes bleeding and too bruised to move. And in true “romance” story style, she keeps coming back for more.”

“And perhaps the even bigger lie of the Fifty Shades trilogy, and no doubt the film, is that Anastasia nurtures and loves him out of his sadism and brutality. Indeed, men like Christian Grey are never loved out of battery; they just keep getting more drunk on their power over women. Believing they’ll change is the dangerous fantasy that keeps many women in their grip. Battered women’s shelters and graveyards are full of women who had the misfortune to meet a Christian Grey. But films that tell the truth about sexual sadists like Christian Grey—films where we see broken bones, black eyes, and motherless, traumatized children—don’t seem to generate the same profits.”

There’s a grassroots movement spreading across the internet right now called #50dollarsnot50shades encouraging people to give $50 to a local domestic violence agency rather than to this “global phenomenon.”  Need ideas of where to donate?  Try New Beginnings or REST.

to a year filled with adventure

One of my favorite parts of the New Year is looking back through the previous year’s calendar and writing new important dates in this new year’s calendar – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries.  It gives me a glimpse back at the year prior while looking ahead to the one that’s just begun.  And well, 2014 was a very full year.  Lots of sharpie marks, important dates, arrows and exclamation points from January through till December.

As I’ve written before, 2013 was hard, for many bittersweet reasons.  But as I came into January of 2014, I felt God speaking into my heart, “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19).  Winter was still hard.  Gray days.  Cold days.  Heartachy days.  But God was indeed moving.  Spring came and brought with it new life.  And I was oh so very thankful. 

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:10-12).

And now, a year later, I can’t reflect on 2014 without being filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude for the ways in which God indeed showered me with joy, with adventure, with hope and promise for good things to come.  The year was full to the brim with mountaintop adventures, with joyful weddings, with dear family and friends. 

Adventure.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  I believe God truly delights in creating in us a desire for adventure.  Big adventures, small adventures, daily adventures, life-long adventures.  I recently stumbled across this blog which pretty much explains adventure better than I ever could: 

Adventure is becoming fully and only yourself, and subsequently inviting others to do the same. It is taking what is unformed and creating, or what is broken and mending…Adventure is being present to this moment, not to the future or past in self-protection. It is a life of faith and trust, where getting caught up in God’s loving restoration will take you to regions within yourself you didn’t know existed, and to people and places in the world you had never known before. Adventure is trading control disguised as learning, improvement, systems, and rightness in exchange for trust in the protection that comes from God’s companionship and faithfulness, no matter what happens…Adventure is an inherent element to living awake.

And oh friends, do I want to be awake!  I desperately want to live life awake to this exhilarating adventure God invites us to join Him on. 

But with that sense of adventure is an inherent element of trust.  As I enter this new year I feel God challenging me to trust Him more fully, with all my adventures.  I have no doubt 2015 will pose its challenges – grad school is hard and working two jobs (even though I like them) can take its toll on me.  I do none of it perfectly.  Sometimes I’m doing so much all at once that I don’t feel like I do any of it well.  Balls get dropped, emails get left unanswered, readings left undone.  I’m thankful for the grace-filled rest He’s given me over this Christmas break, but as I look to Winter Quarter starting up again next week I start to worry, start to grow a little anxious.  And I don’t need to!  If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that I serve a Faithful God.  One who will see me through any bittersweet season, any challenging season, and still delight in sustaining my soul with adventures. 

2015 isn’t even a full day old yet.  But it’s a beautiful sunshine-filled day here in Seattle and I can’t help but feel excited for this new year and all the adventures it will hold.  I’m sure it will give me lots of opportunities for learning how to trust God more fully.  And that won’t always be easy, but it will be good.  Because, friends, God is good.  And his mercies are new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness.

Happy New Year.  May it be an adventuresome one. :)

the “why” question

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about why I’m becoming a social worker.  They usually go something like this:

Oh, social work. Interesting.  And what do you want to do with that?

Trauma therapy for survivors of sexual abuse.

Oh. Wow. Umm. Yeah.

– OR –

Barista – How’s your day going?
Me – Oh pretty good, just here to get some studying done before going to work.
Barista – Where do you work/what do you study?
Me – I work at Mountain Hardwear and I’m studying social work.
Barista – Oh wow that has really high burn out rate huh. What do you do for that?
Me – I hike!
Barista – Which is why you work at Mountain Hardwear…

I’m becoming a social worker because I care about the oppressed and marginalized.  Because stories like these shouldn’t happen anymore.

I’m becoming a social worker because I believe in restoration and redemption.

But mostly, mostly, I’m becoming a social worker because it’s how I feel led to answer God’s call to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17).

Quite simply: I don’t think I would be on this journey if my faith didn’t propel me.

I’m doing this, I’m on this journey, I’m becoming a social worker because of the great love Jesus has for me, and for the marginalized, the oppressed, the abused, and the unloved.

I am blessed to serve a great God. A God who isn’t afraid to cross social boundaries, to get up close and personal with the world’s brokenness, and calls us to do the same.

And so on this cold, dreary Monday morning in November, staring down a paper deadline and knowing I have a long night ahead of me at the Domestic Violence shelter where I’m interning, this is enough.  This knowledge that God has called me to this work, this propels me forward.

Although admittedly the coffee helps, too. :)

One final thought I want to add: I don’t write this from a prideful place, quite the opposite actually — I was humbled and convicted by my Pastor’s sermon last night to be more vocal about the reason why I do what I do. Sitting with those thoughts still this morning and simply wanted to share.

the city

I love the city. But I also hate it. Struggle with it. Ache from it.

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I love the sight of the Sound as the morning mist begins to break.

I love the people — cultures colliding. Languages. Laughter. Excitement. Adventure.

I love the restaurants, coffee, and farmer’s markets.

I love the vibrancy, the color, the hustle and bustle.

I love the sounds. I recently downloaded a “White Noise” app for my phone, but it’s not the “Amazon” or “Beach” sounds that put me at ease, it’s the “City” that puts me to sleep.

I love the skyline, sunlight glistening off of top floor windows.

And in this city, I love the mountain peaks that squeeze through the building landscape.

But I also ache.

I hate that there was a needle jammed into the wooden lightpole at my bus stop the other morning.

I hate that a man stripped down to his underwear outside my work the other day — convinced either by drugs or mental health issues that his clothes were a nuisance. He sat there shaking and rocking back and forth until the ambulance arrived.

I hate that I walk down the street and get catcalled and have to just “deal with it.”

I ache because of the homelessness, chemical dependency and mental illness I see on the streets. I ache because of pocketed faces, ravaged by meth use. I ache because, even in a city with so many resources, people aren’t always ready to get help, or don’t know how to.

And yet, we are called to be restorers of the city, repairers of broken walls.

I love being outside of the city. I love the woods, the mountains, the streams.

But I’m a city girl at heart. I’ve always lived in or just outside a big city. Chiclayo. Chicago. Manila. DC. NYC. Seattle.

In each of these cities, there were things I loved and things that drove me crazy.

The people, the dust, the parks, the cold, the food, the pollution, the history, the traffic, the possibilities, the crowded sidewalks.

But I love the city. I love this city. Even if it makes me ache.

During the summer, my church did a sermon series on the book of Nehemiah. In the first chapter we meet Nehemiah as he leaves his place of relative comfort to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. He’s called to restore broken places. Nehemiah grieves the brokenness he sees, sees the gap between the way the world is and the way it’s supposed to be. He prays wisely, and then acts.

I, too, believe God has a story of redemption and restoration written for this city.  That I have a part to play.  And that makes the loving and the aching make sense to me today.

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Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. (Isaiah 58:6-12)

Onward

Me: “Love you very much.”

Shannon: “What??”

Me: “Umm…I love you?”

Shannon: “Oh, I thought you said ‘onward march’.”

And thus began our catchphrase – onward march, sometime over the years shortened to one simple word. Onward.

For years this one word ended all of our letters, emails and text messages.  The week prior to Shannon’s passing, when she knew the cancer had spread to her liver and she was getting ready to meet Jesus, I knew that this word needed to remain.  I sat with this idea for a few days and then finally texted her “hey, I’m thinking about getting ‘onward’ tattooed… whatcha think?”  The last text I ever got from Shan went something like this: “Awesome!!!!! I love it. Where would you get it?  How big?  So cool!”  She passed away a few days later.

Exactly 7 months later on April 17th I walked into the tattoo parlor with two dear friends at my side, sat down in the chair, and made “onward” a part of me forever.

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It took seven months for me to come to grips with this, to think about what this would mean, to have something that so strongly reminds me of Shannon permanently inked into my forearm.  Seven months to come up with a design, to have it screened by my parents and a few close friends.  Seven months to get to a place where I was ready for this, needed it even.

I never knew one word could have so much meaning.

I miss Shannon.  I miss texting her.  I miss getting her letters signed, “onward.”

But she is just that.  Onward.

It’s no platitude to say she’s in Heaven.  She is.  I bet her Easter was pretty spectacular – Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.

Onward.  Movement.  From here to there.  For all eternity.

But with the death of any loved one, we are left here.  Not there.  Here.  And I’m comforted by the fact that she is onward, that she is healed.  I genuinely am.  But I struggle with the fact that in some ways she is no longer known here.  That she is such an integral part of who I am, but that I don’t know how to share that with people. Because, quite frankly, no one wants to talk about death.  No one knows how to.

But maybe, maybe, I don’t need to talk about death.  Maybe I need to talk about life.  About Shannon’s life.  About her strength, her resiliency, her stalwart faith, her motivation, her deep thinking, her security, her compassion, her breakfast recipes, her desire to glorify God in all circumstances, her laugh, her extreme March Madness bracket competitiveness, her mad Ticket to Ride skills and yes, even the cool way she peeled a banana.  About the truth that I am who I am in large part because of her.  Because of what I’ve learned from her, because of the ways God chose to teach us so much through each other.

I don’t have the answers.  Sometimes I don’t even know the questions.  But I do know that Shannon was incredible, is incredible.  That I miss her like crazy.  That I always will.  And that I wish more people had the chance to know her.  I wish she could have made that trip out to Seattle we always talked about.

I don’t know how, but I want to share Shannon’s story.

For now, that means getting inked and telling people about it.  So, those of you reading this, don’t be afraid to ask me about it.  I promise I won’t break down on you.  But I will, if you’ll let me, tell you about my best friend Shannon, about her cancer and her death, yes, but mostly, mostly, about her strength, her courage, and her life.

And I know I’m not the only one out there with unknown stories.  Stories of value.  Of struggle.  Of redemption.  As much as I do love to share stories, I also really love to listen to them.  How might you share yours?

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full circle

Recently I’ve been struck by the circular patterns in my life. God seems to have this habit of bringing me back, of bringing things full circle in my life, over and over again.

A week and a half ago I flew across the country to attend International Justice Mission’s Global Prayer Gathering. Hopping from Seattle to Chicago and landing in DC, I managed to hit my three US homes all in one day. And then I spent the weekend seeing old friends and colleagues, spending time with a family that is dear to my heart, and being re-centered in God’s faithfulness. Full circle.

That first evening in the keynote address, Gary Haugen set the tone for the gathering ahead – Make Darkness Light. I felt a stirring in my soul. At my first GPG in 2010, we had been given stones that first night and instructed to write a word or a phrase that we felt we needed to remember as we sought to live lives that seek justice. My stone? God is light; darkness flees from truth. I took that stone to the Philippines with me and it was a very tangible reminder that even on the darkest nights of bar outreach, God’s light was made manifest in His people. So here I was at this year’s GPG – 4 years later – circling back to that theme. God is light. And we are called to shrink the shadows, dispel the darkness, melt the mountains, call forth healing, and persevere to the dawn.”  This year I received another stone with “call forth healing” etched into its smooth surface. This was my third year in a row attending IJM’s GPG and each year it has served as a re-set button in my spiritual life, a re-centering in the faithfulness of God. A reminder of why I do the work that I do, why I believe in God’s redemption story, why I need to seek His face as I also seek justice.

But like I said, these circles are not unusual for me.

As a senior in high school my dream school was Georgetown. I didn’t get in. I’m now grateful for that because I went to Wheaton instead, which for a myriad of reasons was the best school for me. But six years later I lived in DC and attended a church small group in Georgetown every week.

When I’d come home to Seattle for the summer during college, I used to think about how great it would be to live in the city, to be a Seattle dweller, to buy flowers at Pike Place Market after work. Here I am, working downtown Seattle and popping over to the Market for mid-day walks.

Junior year of college I came home for Spring Break and adventured with my sisters in the early morning cherry blossoms at UW. Several years later here I am, thankful for breath of new life, for spring, for those very same cherry blossoms.

This past weekend I flew down to California for a dear friend’s wedding and in the process managed to spend time with three different groups of people, each representing a different chapter or season of my life. Friends becoming “old friends.”

And these circles? They go way back. My parents lived in the Philippines before I was born. I moved there for six months of my senior year of college.  My parents also spent a year of their early marriage in Connecticut just outside NYC. This time last year I was living a few miles away from where they had lived, and exploring NYC on the weekends.

Margaret Feinberg calls these sacred echoes. For me it seems to be sacred circles. Dreams. Places. Dear, dear people. Coming back full circle.

Some of these “circles” are quite “surface level” — perhaps mere geographical coincidences and wishes.  But for me, all of these “circles” serve as gentle reminders from God: “I am Faithful. I am good. I’ve got this under control. I know you’ll often forget this, but don’t worry, I’ll circle back again and again and help you remember.”

Oh and one final thought.  I guess I’d best keep dreaming…who knows when these dreams I have now might circle back to me again. :)

an invitation to Lenten rhythm

Most of last year was chaotic.  Not in an inherently bad way, but in an unpredictable just-when-you-think-you-have-a-routine-something-changes kind of way.  Granted many of those changes were exhilarating and wonderful, but change is never easy even if it is good.

For the first time in a long time, I started this year in the same city I will end it in.  Coming into this new season I wanted something…different, stable.  I feel the need for rhythm.  For structure and routine, yes.  But mostly for rhythm.  To feel at home with myself.  Consistently alive.

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Rhythm.  Heartbeat.  Breathe in and out, in and out.  Our bodies are made for rhythm.  Seven days of the week, always in the same order (sadly, no matter how much you wish Friday came after Tuesday, it just won’t happen).

My roommate and I started going to a Pilates class on Monday nights offered through our church.  The most valuable part of this hour for me has been the intense concentration it takes to maintain a consistent breath.  To have everything else forced out of my mind while I focus on simultaneously engaging my muscles in an exercise and breathing deeply.  This breath, this mind-body connection is something we take for granted on a daily basis, but without it we wouldn’t function.  Truly noticing my breathing can be a very powerful thing, actually.  Short.  Shallow.  Deep.  Filling.  Quick.  Rhythmic.

When a million things all happened at once last fall, I sort of stopped breathing in that I fell out of rhythm with Jesus.  I would still cry out to Him in moments of mourning.  Or worship Him through song.  I still felt His Presence and I still felt myself drawn to pray for others.  But I wasn’t breathing consistently, rhythmically.  I’d fallen out of a consistent relationship with my Savior.

Does that sound familiar?

Jesus so deeply desires to be a consistent part of our lives, friends.  And I think when we make time for Him, consistent time, it’s like rhythmic breathing – deep, nourishing, life-giving. 

“Discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God – a time and place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.” (Henri Nouwen)

Today we mark the beginning of Lent, a liturgical season in the Church that marks the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.  For many, it’s a spiritual reason to go on a diet.  But I truly believe Lent can be so much more.  Fasting can be a very valuable part of Lent for many.  Lent is an intentional time for looking inward, facing our brokenness and repenting.  But that, in turn, should inspire us to look upwards to the Cross and in to the empty tomb.

These next seven weeks are also an invitation to re-focus on who Christ is, and who we are in Christ.  To spend concentrated time in the Word, creating space to listen and hear what God might be speaking into our lives.  It’s an opportunity to nourish a deeper, daily, consistent relationship with a loving Savior God who took the death that should have been ours upon Himself.

I’m hopeful that during this season, I’ll regain my rhythm.  My breath.

Whether you’ve been observing Lent since you were a wee one, or this is the first you’ve ever heard the word, take this as an invitation to rhythm, to consistency and intentionality, and to a growing, deepening, life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.  He so longs to meet you there.

Some Lenten resources:

A dear friend of mine was part of publishing a book of Lenten devotionals entitled A Journey into Wholeness: Soul Travel from Lent to Easter.  I’m looking forward to journeying through this book in the weeks to come.  If you’re interested in getting a copy or just reading more about it, you can find the book and more of a synopsis here.

My favorite magazine posted an article today about Lent and the importance of not just “giving something up” but “giving something over.”

One of my favorite authors/bloggers is challenging her readers to read through the entire New Testament during the course of Lent.  Read about her journey, and the one she invites you to join, here.

A wonderful band that have at times helped me journey into worship – PageCXVI – has released a Lenten hymn series.  Streaming for free here.

“Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.”

“Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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There are a vast number of injustices in the world today.  And no, I don’t think your team not making it to the playoffs is one of them, sorry.  I’m talking about racism.  Classism.  Sexism.  We live in a broken world made up of broken people and it shows.  Oh my does it show.

For me, there is one injustice that grabs my attention more than others and that’s the reality of human trafficking, or modern day slavery.  I don’t think this “cause” is any more important than another “cause,” but for me it has been a big part of my journey towards discovering what Christ has called me to do for His Kingdom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stood against injustice in his time.  He was a revolutionary in the best sense of the word.  He saw something that was wrong and he took a stand against it.

We can do the same.

January is also Human Trafficking Awareness month.  I wanted to share a few links here that I think can help raise our awareness about modern day slavery.

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Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times recently moderated a panel discussion between several of the foremost leaders in the anti-trafficking movement.  I managed to tune in somewhat while at work, but thankfully they recorded it and it’s on YouTube for all to view.  It’s about 40 minutes long, but very educational.  I highly recommend taking the time to listen to these leaders share from experience, research, and current events.  You just might learn something new.

 

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I’ve written before on this topic, but it happens every year…and it should make us think every year.  Major sporting events, like the upcoming Superbowl are notorious for prompting an increase in human trafficking.  Thankfully, advocates in New Jersey have been working with local law enforcement and hotel personnel to crack down on trafficking.  Read the full story here.

Demand for prostitutes surges ahead of the Super Bowl and officials warn trafficking gangs are likely to cash in on the influx of football fans, forcing people they have often bought into the country illegally to work in the sex trade.  New Jersey’s ports, freeways and major airports make it a ‘destination state for human trafficking,’ said Melanie Gorelick of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking.  ‘They are preparing to have as many arrests as possible during the Super Bowl and to make it as difficult as possible for traffickers to bring women and labor to the area.’

RESPONSE

Each year International Justice Mission hosts a Global Prayer Gathering, a weekend of hearing testimonies from the field, sharing in God’s Word, worshiping together, and praying.  Praying wholeheartedly and with much confidence that our God who hears us cares about the cries of the oppressed.  I’ve been blessed to attend the GPG three times in the past and am already registered to attend again later this spring.  It’s a profound time.  I encourage you to watch the promo video from IJM.  Even if you know you can’t make it to the GPG (although that would be awesome!), watch it and be reminded that God is light in dark places.  And that prayer is a powerful weapon in the fight against injustice.

Emmanuel, God with us.

This Christmas feels different.

For one, I live 30 minutes away from my parents and don’t have to fly anywhere for Christmas for the first time in 6 years.  It’s great.

But it’s actually far deeper and more personal than that.  These past 3 weeks, 3 months, entire year if I’m being honest, have been hard.  Emotional.  Exhausting.  But also filled with so much goodness and joy and beauty.  The ebbs and flows of life.

Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year!”  But for many, it’s also a time of great sorrow and pain and loss.  It’s empty chairs at the table.  It’s financial troubles that mean no or few presents.  It’s homelessness, hunger, illness.  It’s hurting relationships, betrayal, mistrust.  It’s the brokenness of this world intensified by how happy we’re all supposed to be.

I have known loss and grief this year in new ways, and I have many dear friends and family who have known great loss, grief, sorrow, and pain, still fresh for some.  How do you enter into this joyous time of the year when coming from such a place?

A blogger I follow said it like this: “I’ve noticed this year that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of space in our lives for hurting people during the Holidays.  But, man, there are a lot of hurting people.  There are a lot of people for whom this time of year is sad or bitter, hollow or lonely, or just plain painful.  While some of us are celebrating, others are aching.  While some of us are toasting to long life, others are mourning life lost.  While some of us feast on family time, others are starving to be loved.  The bustle of activity and togetherness in December only serves to make some houses feel all the more empty.”  (You should probably read her whole post, just an idea).

But then she shares a profound truth, one that has been my constant throughout this season of Advent:

“Jesus didn’t come to fix it all.  He came to be with us in it all.”

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  There is so much power in that, friends!  The verses of the traditional Christmas carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” are so profoundly beautiful.  I’ve always loved that hymn, but this year it has new meaning for me.  Mourning, sorrow, darkness, death… “Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by your drawing nigh, Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight, Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, oh Israel!”

Emmanuel, God with us.  Jesus enters into our pain, our sorrow, our confusion, and promises comfort, joy, rejoicing, salvation, peace, presence.  Not only at Christmas, but always, and for all eternity.

I just returned home from a service at the church I’ve been attending here in Seattle — The Longest Night service.  On today, the first day of winter, the longest night, it was a service set apart for those who have experienced loss and might find it difficult to enter into Christmas this year.  It was a beautiful evening of communal worship, grief, tears, and remembrance.  And sitting with the fact that we don’t have to struggle to get back to the light right away, God meets us in the darkness of our grief.  He enters into our waves of ache.  He is Emmanuel.  Unchanging.  Forever.  I’m thankful that this church provided a space for this genuine approach to the Christmas week ahead.

Whether this Christmas for you is like any other, or if it’s a little different this year due to sorrow and loss, or any other number of reasons… my prayer is that we would each remember the truth of Emmanuel, God’s promise to be present with us, in and through all the ebbs and flows of life.

Merry Christmas, friends.  And may the peace, hope, grace, and Presence of Christ rule in your hearts this season and in the New Year to come.

And because I’m all about embedding poetic songs in my post today…

 
“The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves / All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe / Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees / Christmas lights tangle in knots annually / Our families huddle closely / Betting warmth against the cold / But our bruises seem to surface / Like mud beneath the snow / So we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know / A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go / Like young love still waiting under mistletoe / We’ll welcome December with tireless hope / Let our bells keep on ringing / making angels in the snow / may the melody disarm us / when the crack begin to show / like the petals in our pockets / may we remember who we are / unconditionally cared for / by those who share our broken hearts / The table is set and our glasses are full / though pieces go missing, may we still feel whole / we’ll build new traditions in place of the old / ’cause life without revision will silence our souls / Let our bells keep on ringing / making angels in the snow / may the melody disarm us / when the crack begin to show / like the petals in our pockets / may we remember who we are / unconditionally cared for / by those who share our broken hearts / As gentle as feathers, the snow piles high / Our world gets rewritten and retraced every time / Like fresh plates and clean slates, our future is white / New year’s resolutions will reset tonight.” (Sleeping At Last, Snow