Love: Join Together & Get Creative

I had the opportunity today to contribute to the #loveis series over on the Facebook page for Sweet to the Soul Ministries . So thankful to share alongside some lovely ladies who have taken time this month to consider what the scriptures say about this thing we call love. My focus was on Hebrews 10:24:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…

The entire book of Hebrews has something to prove. The author was worried that his audience was waffling in their faith. He implored them not to go back to the old, comfortable way they’d always known, approaching God by routinely making sacrifices, checking off a spiritual box. He went to great lengths to show that Jesus is our high priest and no other sacrifice is needed.

God is really really smart, y’all.

He knew that even when we came to understand that Jesus is our center, it would only be a starting point. Our faith is a lifelong process of trusting and learning to love like Jesus did. He knew we would get discouraged easily. He knew we, too, would waffle back and forth in our faith at times.

He knew we would need some strategies for sticking with it, for moving forward in our faith when life got harsh. For when it seemed too difficult to center our lives around a Savior who was all about showing love in practical ways.

So what did God give us as an answer to these difficulties? Two things stick out to me from Hebrews 10:24:

First, He gave us other believers. The verse says: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Us. We. One another. The words used here don’t signify any of us being an island. We need each other to keep the momentum of love & faith going. We need to encourage each other to put God’s love into action.

The second thing God gave us is creative minds. Other translations of Hebrews 10:24 tell us to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” and to “see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out”.

Oh, I love that. What a challenge! He wants to see just how out-of-the-box we can get in demonstrating love toward others.

So friends, let’s take on that challenge. Let’s just get all kinds of creative in how we show His love today. Forget about how we will be perceived because of it. And let’s not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by how difficult life may feel at the moment. God knew it would happen, and He’s given us one another to figure out how to creatively persevere in showing His love to all people.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. What comes to mind when you think about God asking us to be inventive and creative in love? Who is a person in your life who spurs you on toward love and good deeds? How do they do this? Tell me about all it! Your thoughts will spur even more of us on toward encouraging love and good deeds today.

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A bit of editing

I woke up this morning, made my husband’s lunch, kissed him on the front doorstep and sent him off to work. I did a few small things around the house and made a to-do list for the day. I wasn’t feeling much of anything special until I read an article. An article about a Christian radio personality who has apparently been charged with sex crimes. While I was disgusted by the entire thing overall, and disappointed that yet another person who claims to align himself with the attitudes and actions of a follower of Jesus Christ has a secret life that in no way matches that, I was particularly irked at the way the article was written and by some of the comments that I deem to be quite ignorant.

First of all, the actual text of the article in question can be found here. The summary sounds a little something like this:

There’s a dude in northern Michigan by the name of Balyo. He happens to work as a radio personality for a Christian radio program. The article says he’s been charged because he “allegedly paid another person, who is a defendant in another child exploitation case, to arrange for sexual encounters with minor victims.”  

Keep in mind that the federal definition of human trafficking is this:

Under U.S. federal law, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking:

  1. Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age, (22 USC § 7102; 8 CFR § 214.11(a)).
  2. Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, (22 USC § 7102).

The article goes on to say that Balyo has been arrested “on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.”

Next, an “expert” weighs in on the matter. The article states:

As Cooley Law professor and human trafficking expert Chris Johnson explains it, Balyo is accused of being a customer. “I think the terminology would be a ‘john’ — that in itself is not going to be human trafficking,” Johnson said. “The person he went to in order to secure the child would be the one who would be guilty of human trafficking.”

And that’s one of the things that’s got me all salty this morning. This dude Balyo allegedly (I understand innocent until proven guilty) sought out another person, by the name of Moser, who was already being investigated under a state and federal sting operation. This guy Moser, according to this article, was a real piece of work. It states that “He ran a website offering paying customers sex with underage boys.” (by the way, there was no “allegedly” to that statement. It had already been established that he ran such a web site.)

So here’s the first guy, Balyo, paying the second guy, whom he knows to run a web site that offers sex with minors, yet this expert says that Balyo is just a “john” and that he wouldn’t be considered a human trafficker. Hmmm. The federal definition says that Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act,…in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

Did this many Balyo not recruit an underage boy for sex? Does it matter that he used a mediator to make provision for him to obtain an underage boy for sex? If he had cut out the middle man and grabbed a kid off the street, we would call him a trafficker, but since he went about it the sophisticated way and paid a “professional” trafficker, we’re just gonna call him a “john” instead, right? What the heck!?

Is this man not the REASON there is sex trafficking? Balyo allegedly supplied the one thing this world needs to ensure that children are sexually exploited: the demand.

Which brings me to another point that has me all fired up this morning. This article continues to use language that is harmful in the fight against human trafficking.

The “expert” makes another statement: He apparently says “pimps with prostitutes who are underage are not uncommon.”

There is no such thing as a “prostitute who is underage”. There are only trafficking victims who are minors. According to the same federal definition above, a person who intends to sell a person under 18 is a trafficker, and that underage person is a victim of trafficking. Simple as that. There’s no such thing as an “underage prostitute”. Hear me?

The expert goes on to say that “Many times when you do have a brothel that’s raided, you do end up finding child victims, unfortunately, that are involved in the commercial sex trade…according to the Department of Justice, the average age a person enters prostitution in the United States is between the age of 11 and 13 years old, so there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children.”

“…there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children.”

This statement bothers me to no end. To me, simply saying that there are lots of people who apparently have this “sexual appetite” for children almost makes it sound as if that’s a normal thing. It sounds almost as nonchalant as saying there is quite a prevalence of people who have a craving for vanilla ice cream over chocolate. Totally normal, viable preference, right? No.

To me, semantics matter. BIG TIME. In a world where so many of us are trying to fight against human trafficking, the exploitation and sexualization of our youth, and the criminals who make all that happen, I think it’s high time we start paying more attention to the words we use when discussing the whole thing.

Stop allowing “experts” to use words and phrases such as child prostitute. It has been well established by now that we legally can’t define anyone in that way, and the fact that this person did so, no matter how credentialed he may be, disqualifies him as an “expert” on the matter in my eyes.

And let’s call things what they really are. Instead of saying stuff like “…there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children”  how about we think about our words and say what is really meant by that statement, like “there is quite a prevalence of people who regularly seek out opportunities to exploit children sexually.” That’s what we’re really saying there, isn’t it?  We have got to be more careful with the words we allow when speaking of this evil.

Whether or not this Balyo person will be found guilty remains to be seen. What evidence has been collected to that end, I do not know. But I do know that sadly, this is one of many people who have been accused of exploiting our children directly for their own sick purposes. In my opinion, anyone who participates in that process should be charged with human trafficking. Because the truth is, without the demand, there is no need for the supply. So a person who seeks out some other person person to assist him in exploiting a child is as guilty of trafficking as the person who sells the child for that purpose. Perhaps even more so, because the problem begins with the demand for such a thing. The problem begins with the demand. And as much as we fight against the problem of human trafficking, it will continue as long as the demand continues. It will continue as long as people are able to minimize the thing by talking in terms such as “appetites” and “child prostitutes.” It will continue as long as we don’t think our words really matter all that much.

live now.

A phone call telling us a friend had taken his own life. A message from another friend that his father had passed away, when he had just spoken to him that morning. A friend buried a parent after she had just lost her husband.  A family member with a back injury, and it looks like surgery is on the horizon. A car accident–luckily it didn’t result in any harm to either party. All of this just in the past month or two.

And again last night, a dear friend who awoke to find her daughter with blue lips and a lack of gaze in her eyes. Thankfully she has recovered, and already has that twinkle back in her eyes. Thank you, Jesus.

But that feeling. That empty feeling. My friend said it best… she couldn’t get the “what if” out of her mind.

This. All of THIS.

It reminds me that we only have one life. Every single moment of it is precious and important. We have to make the most of all of the moments that we get, whether we feel like they are spectacular or not.

We have to make a choice to enjoy and pursue and live in the moment…

and listen

and notice

and make a difference

and not sit this one out

and give of our gifts

and pray and serve

and make others understand that they are WORTH IT.

Worth our time, our attention, worth a place on our schedule. Worth space in our hearts. Worth our heartbeats themselves.

I am the first to admit, my calendar sometimes looks like a cage. All those black lines, squaring up and rounding out the minutes of my life… scribbled in and squeezed into and running and running together. Sometimes I look at my days and think “what have I done?” and not in the way of wanting to know what I have accomplished or checked off the to-do list.. but what have I done with my time that matters?? Actually matters? To me? To others? To eternity?

today is the best day

I don’t want to waste a second. I love so many people and I want them to know it. I care about many things and I want them to be evident. I have so little time and I want to use it. I want God to use me in this little span of time that I am borrowing. I want to live.

live now

What can be done about Human Trafficking?

I am the first to admit that learning about human trafficking can feel very overwhelming–even depressing– at first. You see the statistics and the news stories and it just seems like such horrific stuff, how can we even do anything about it?

You may be surprised, but there’s quite a bit that can be done. There’s a lot already being done to fight human trafficking every day, both here and abroad. I already mentioned in a previous post that memorizing the national Human Trafficking Hotline can help save a life. 1-888-3737-888 is the number to call, or text information or questions to BEFREE on your cell phone. Just memorize it, and tell others about it so they will know there is a resource.

First Step: Educate Yourself. I’ve compiled a page of documentaries, books, and web sites from organizations that are great starting points to familiarize yourself with the reality of this problem. There are books, web sites, and documentaries that shed light on all types of human trafficking. I will continue to update this page as I learn of more resources that will help you educate yourselves.

Anti-Human Trafficking Resource Page

My hope is that you will go a step further after you learn about the women, children, and men who are trafficked into situations from which they have no escape. That you will imagine what it would be like if your very own daughter, son, sister, or brother were in that same situation. And that you would be moved by compassion into action.

After educating yourself, find a way to get involved. There are many ways! You can write letters to legislators, volunteer with survivors, make meals for drop-in centers, join or develop an outreach to educate others, devote a talent to raising awareness, collect donations for crisis centers, pray, become a speaker on this subject, or a million other things! I make jewelry that I sell to raise awareness and funds. Who knew making jewelry was a way to fight slavery!? Just about anything you do to raise awareness or move into action can help secure freedom for the many women, children, and men who are trafficked every day.

When asked which was the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus replied:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:36-40, The Message

Loving others as we love ourselves means wanting the same for them that we want for ourselves. Do you want to be beaten and forced to have sex with a dozen or more strangers every night? Do you want to work in a carpet factory for 18 hours a day for no pay? Do you want to be forced to kill people in a war that you know nothing about and never signed up for? Do you want to be enslaved as a domestic servant for all of your life?

I didn’t think so. Neither do I.

Then how can we stand by while these things are happening to others? We can’t. So let’s get a move on, shall we?

opposites unite

Opposites attract. Everyone knows that old adage, and many times it rings true in our lives. I think it’s especially true when it comes to couples. I find it completely awesome how many couples could not be more opposite in personality, preferences, gifts, and talents, yet they enjoy a lovely balance in their relationships. It’s definitely the case in my marriage. I am a flighty extrovert, while my man is a sober-minded introvert. I process verbally. He processes silently. I’m all city-girl, he could live on the side of a mountain forever. It’s a beautiful paradox, but in certain areas, it makes things a bit complicated.

For example, serving others is a central part of our life as followers of Christ. But since we’re wired so differently, one of the things that my husband and I have always found difficult is exactly where and how to serve others together.  He prefers practical, behind-the-scenes ways of helping folks. He wants a task to accomplish on behalf of someone to meet a need they have. I prefer to get all up in the mix with the people… seeing their faces, hearing their stories, feeling their emotions, making a connection so they know they’re important. That’s what thrills my heart.

Scripture reminds us of the fact that we’re all wired so beautifully different on purpose.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. -1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. -1 Corinthians 12:12

Over the years Todd and I have served others together in various ways, but they have undoubtedly been more slanted toward one of our worlds than the other. We’ve just made the decision to bend toward each others’ direction in order to be able to serve together. And while all of those things have been good, we hadn’t quite found that thing, that one cause that we both would passionately jump behind and could feel like we’re both in the right place with. Something that serves the poor, the downtrodden, the desperate heart. Something that allows both of us to use our very different gifts to show God’s love to people in practical and personal ways. Something that we’d both be excited about and be able to dig into with fervor, working in sync to accomplish one goal.

We’ve been glad to step into each other’s world from time to time just to be able to serve together, and many times we’ve simply served folks apart from one another in our own ways in different directions, and those things have been good too. And we will probably always have that to some extent. But we’ve had many conversations over the years about what our “one thing” might be and we kept dreaming that someday we just might find it.

Then the other night, it happened. We were having a conversation about human trafficking, as he had just returned from a men’s event centered on the subject. He was giving me the run-down of the evening, then he said it. It was unexpected, and it made my heart skip a beat.

“I think this is our one thing.”

Whoa. Say again??? I was all “really!?” and “seriously!?”  like a kid reacting to her parents telling her they were going on a trip to Disney World.

We went on to have this amazing talk about how fighting human trafficking is all about serving the underdog… people who have been used and abused to the worst extent, shunned and misunderstood by society instead of getting the true help they’ve needed. Both of our hearts go out to them in every way. Both of our hearts twist up in anger at the injustice of one human being viewing another as property and a commodity to be sold. We talked about our skill sets and gifts and how they could mesh to drum up awareness and resources to combat the problem, and how it would be awesome to go on outreach together to let people know that they are loved and there’s a way out. There are many ways to help that require lots of the things we’re each good at doing. There are tasks to be accomplished and people to encourage. It’s a perfect fit for both of us.

It was music to my ears hearing him say that the thing that I’ve become so passionate about and that he has supported so selflessly over the past few years, is now becoming our thing.

I am so, so thankful for the ways that God has worked in both of us in the last decade. He never ceases to amaze me by doing the impossible, like placing his love into the hearts of a selfish woman and a cynical man so they can work together to help bring freedom to more of the people He loves. I can’t ask for anything more lovely.

Spitting in its face

This week I’m reminded of my favorite quote from Helen Keller, which is indeed my favorite quote of all time:

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.”

This mess isn’t going away anytime soon. It won’t stop just because we vote for so-and-so. It won’t stop if we take away guns or give out guns to everyone or throw money at people who say they’ll do either. It won’t stop when we sing God Bless America or when we don’t. It won’t completely stop at all. There is simply evil in this world. If there’s any doubt of that in your mind at this point, then I certainly am at a loss to try to convince you. As long as we live in this world there will be evil. There will be wrong. There will be suffering. There will be things for which we have no explanation or framework to understand them, other than just calling it out for what it is: pure evil.

Our job, then, is not to explain it or make excuses for how it could have happened in the first place. Our only job is to stare it in the face, call it what it is, and do whatever small part we can to offer some hope.

Evil is a person who take lives for no apparent reason. Offer to mourn with the grieving families. Evil is a person who preys on innocent children to do them harm. Offer a safe haven for children you know so this doesn’t have to happen to them. Evil is a lifetime of horrific abuse visited on a person from which they had no escape. Offer them the truth that they need not be ashamed, and that they are special and loved no matter what.

Evil is all around us, my friends. But so is hope. As long as any of us are standing, so is hope. Let’s not just sit In our cozy homes wrapped up in cozy blankets on our cozy couches, shaking our heads at what the TV tells us. Offer up some hope… Look evil square in the face and tell it that you’re launching an assault and there’s nothing it can do about it.

Then GO. Do some good. ANY good. Good just done for the sake of doing it offers a glimmer of hope and spits in the face of evil. And I think that spitting in the face of evil sounds like the most lovely thing I’ve heard all week.

Super Duper September!

So excited to be a part of Super Duper September over at my friend Marla’s blog. She’s featuring a different friend each day this month and showcasing their heart for a specific cause. And I am blessed to be part of it! Check out FancyFREE jewelry there today and learn how you can get some great handmade-by-me jewelry and support the anti-human trafficking efforts of doma International!!

She’s a super fun lady with a big, BIG heart for the poor and oppressed. She’s a brilliant writer, an awesome mom & wife, and loves Jesus to pieces. Basically she’s just who I’d want to be of I ever grew up : )

So what are you waiting for? Get on over there and read about FancyFREE jewelry today, then sign up to follow her blog and get inspiration for the rest of September (and pretty much the rest of your life!)