Love


Dressember?

People are wearing a dress/tie for the entire month of December to end human trafficking. Ludicrous.

What do a bunch of white suburban upper-class women and men know about eradicating human trafficking? What do they know about pain and suffering and facing death to escape it? And they’re trying to solve this massive, WORLD-WIDE PROBLEM, simply by wearing a dress/tie? Doubtful.

Ouch… harsh words.

Unfortunately these are my own thoughts. Thoughts that have passed in and out of my head for the past couple of years.

Sometimes I’m a really horrible person. I’m cynical. Judgmental. Irrational. Sometimes I’m passionate in all the wrong places. Passion which usually tends to be from the comfort of my own home. Sometimes I’m debilitated by ignorance and fear.

After much reflection, what I’m left with is this:

Silence does more harm than good. Silence harbors and grows ignorance. Ignorance never solved… healed… repaired anything.

I’ve realized that my avoidance and hesitance in helping this cause (many causes) has been more about my own fear than about knowledge, wisdom, and fighting for love.

To me, wearing a dress for a month means facing the reality that I lived. It means entering into a place of darkness that I have long sought to escape. A place filled with loneliness and silence and shame.

I ran away from home twice as a teenager. The second time I ran away, I lived amongst the drug-infested and gang-infected streets of San Diego. I was found by two men that promised adventure, fun, and protection. These men trafficked me for their own benefit. I was a pawn to satiate their addictions. My friend knew of strength and wisdom. She went home the second day. I was alone, scared, lost, and owned for ten days. My reality had become a nightmare and I felt trapped. I was never given words to describe the scenario in which I was now living. I went from the comfort of my own room, in a home, in a friendly neighborhood to some shady motel room, sleeping on a downtown park bench, in a freezing-cold baseball dugout, squatting in an abandoned-graffiti-covered home, in a tiny apartment filled with cockroaches, with a single mom and her children in their dirty apartment without power, taken by a man one night in his home while his family photo – with wife and kids – hung on the wall behind him. The man that owned me convinced me to go back to the location with the single man that had a gun next to loads of cash and crack cocaine. “We” planned on offering myself to him again so that I could grab his gun, kill him, and run off with his drugs and cash. Though it was only an hour later, that man never answered our persistent and confident knocking on the windows and door of his home. I was so close to death. My life became crack cocaine in exchange for access to my body. I witnessed wads of cash in proximity to large knives and drugs and guns. A simple and exciting ditch day with a peer from school turned into the trauma-filled life of a scared 15 year old under the ownership of The Powerful.

Dear God. What the HELL kind of impact can I make on this horror, simply by wearing a dress/tie for a month?!

Wearing a dress/tie will never eradicate human trafficking. Wearing a dress/tie will not stop teenage girls from entering a dangerous situation of being sex trafficked. Wearing a dress/tie will not miraculously make traffickers turn their lives around. At least, not in and of itself.

I’ve learned that wearing a dress/tie every day will generate questions. Wearing a dress/tie every day will generate conversations. Wearing a dress/tie every day will generate awareness. And maybe in that awareness, we’ll find the person that ends up figuring out the solution to break down the massive construct of human trafficking. Maybe in that awareness, we may actually end up saving teenage girls from entering down the dark path that I was on as a teenager. Maybe awareness will give courage to the person that is currently trapped in a human trafficking situation. Maybe wearing a dress/tie will bring awareness to the point that it will give courage to those feeling trapped: courage to stand up, to escape, and — in bravery, knowing they aren’t alone — to live a better life.

So here I am… showing up with my two daughters. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll wear a dress/tie for 31 days and contribute to ending human trafficking.

I’m used to people telling me ‘no’. But what I’m not used to them telling me is ‘yes’, but that’s because I’ve been afraid for most of my life. Afraid to even ask, to even try. So here I am asking. I’m asking you to link arms with me. Whatever you do, DO NOT echo my mistakes in refusing to help due to your own ignorance or arrogance or fear.

Help raise awareness.

Help be a voice to the voiceless.

Help be strength for the weak.

Help share healing for the broken.

Be a light in the darkness.

Disseminate Love.

https://dressember.funraise.org/fundraiser/jen-smith

https://dressember.funraise.org/

I didn’t plan on writing today, but then I read this powerful article. Here is an excerpt:

Evil seeks to use men’s addictions to power and shame to continue to exploit women’s bodies and silence their voices. Evil loves to use harm only to perpetuate more harm. And I think that our greatest weapon against such evil is to help men tell their stories with courage and boldness, with grace and truth, but mostly with strength and tenderness.

We must bless what has been cursed. A story well told is always a story that honors the desire to be seen, known, and loved.

How can I stay silent after reading something that resonates so deeply within me?? I’ve witnessed that evil on arrogant display within nearly every single man I love and cherish. I am desperate to help all people share their stories. It’s only in the Light that the ominous shadows are shown in their powerless state.

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

– John 1:5

For weeks, months, years, I’ve been captivated by this verse:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

– 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I am doubly struck. On one hand, I am personally empowered to reach out to others and share the comfort I have received from Christ and others. On the other hand, I am reminded that comfort cannot be obtained or shared, without first experiencing the healing power of comfort, grace, mercy and forgiveness.

The article above is a gateway into experiencing that healing power. The first step is to name the problem, name the source. Call it out for what it is, and then share it as a light for those wandering aimlessly through the dark. Bless the curse.

The floodgates of writing have been opened once again. This time, the floodgate comes from Light rather than painful desperation.

While writing the last entry, I heard a new word in my head (But was it new to me? I’ll never know…) and I looked it up to find out if it’s real (because I sometimes make up words). Thankfully, this word is real.

transfixion

noun:  trans·fix·ion  \ tran(t)s-ˈfik-shən \

:a piercing of a part of the body (as by a suture, nail, or other device) in order to fix it in position

I was stuck on the definition for quite some time. I was “hearing” this word as a description for a particular character in my previous entry but all I could see when I read the definition was Jesus hanging on the cross.

This is a medical definition and I’m bombarded by images of the power of sutures, nails, and staples. The tasks they perform and the lives they save. I’m overwhelmed with images of nails hanging pictures of loved ones or life-changing phrases, of nails and staples holding housing frames together and keeping floorboards down. I’m captivated by the power that rests in the tiny nails that hold butterflies in hypnotizing positions while we marvel at the intricacies of their miraculous design, and by the magnificent bolts that hold the skeletal remains of ancient goliaths that once roamed earth. We’re surrounded and immersed in transfixion, by piercings holding things together and freezing a moment in time.

The transfixion of Jesus: pierced by nails in order to fix Him in position on the cross. The symbolism of this fixed position has me mesmerized, transfixed. Arms open welcoming His fate. Arms open welcoming the humanity He died to save. Nails holding his feet firmly planted as He goes against human understanding and against every other god. His transfixion was for all.

The beauty of Jesus’ transfixion creates a transfixion of my soul, holding me constant and steady in His Light.

My last blog entry was founded on a single word in a song. This entry came to me after watching a video posted on Facebook.

A stray dog was found, angry and alone. Skin squeezing through her rib cage, and dangerously close to strangling her heart. She was vicious, neglected, and starved. Starved from physical sustenance and starved from comfort, care, concern, and love. She was wretched. She was deplorable. She was me.

As it does whenever I see pain and anguish, my heart broke when I saw this video. But I could not watch it without personifying the dog. As strange as it sounds, I saw myself in her frightened gaze, snarled lip, and snapping teeth. I was immediately taken back to my teenage years. When I lived as a victim, fought with anyone that came close, and – in order to engage in rage – I chased down people trying to avoid me. I perfected the construction of the wall around me and had no idea how to respond to attempts at people trying to share grace and love with me. I couldn’t recognize pure attempts at love when there had been so many years spent with people taking advantage of me. The years I spent being victimized – and neglected of comfort, care, concern, and love – had turned me frightened, angry, and alone.

The absence of care, concern, and love does peculiar things to the living. Think about its effects on animals, on humans, even on plants.

What does life look like though when love remedies the hate? What happens to a life where acceptance is fully known and unconditional love is fully experienced and understood?

I have only ever been able to reciprocate love once I fully accept pure and unconditional Love.

Transformation demands acceptance.

I saw my own transformation within the transformation of this dog.

This dog had to accept love from her rescuer in order to be fed and shown a better way to live. She started eating, she gained weight, she played, and shared love and joy. My life change happened once I accepted pure, unconditional, and holy Love.

Only when I’ve accepted the Love of Jesus have I been able to share that with my husband, my children, my family and friends. The Love of Jesus doesn’t demand anything from me beyond acceptance. It doesn’t require I perform or jump hurdles. It happened with my life change in 1996. It happened again in 1997, when I could look my uncle in the face and tell him I forgave him for what he did to me when I was eight. It happened again when I chose to marry my best friend, and once again when I had our son, our daughter, and our youngest daughter. It happened yet again in 2009, when despair took over and I had to finally come to terms with all that was done to me and all that I had done to myself and others. Finally, and most profoundly and influentially, my marriage was healed and restored once my husband and I both accepted that we were loved UNCONDITIONALLY. It was only in that realization and acceptance that we are able to love each other and stay true to our vow of marriage.

Time and time again, the love I’ve shared with others has only been made possible by the Love I’ve accepted from the Creator Himself.

In what ways have you been transformed by Love? And how are you transforming others by that same Love?

 

 

Sometimes my titles take flight and land before the content has a chance to conceptualize. This entry is one such example. I heard a song by Wild Rivers and learned a new word today: fallow.

fallow

nounusually cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season

Why are we so afraid of the pain of others? Does it emphasize or enhance our own pain? Does it make us feel inadequate or ill-equipped to save or heal others? Or does it just make things better, more tidy, when we overlook it?

I was shaken to hear of the rape scene in Downton Abbey’s fourth season and my first thought was to skip over it. Our family recently became acquainted with this show and I really value the integrity and morals highlighted in it, especially when our options of family-friendly viewing have become so limited. To put it mildly, our family is addicted to this show. All five of us love it. What a lovely way in teaching our children about integrity and morals and taking pride and showing honor in our hard work, no matter our social class. Of course, there have been some indiscretions and horrors that we’ve blocked from our eight year old and discussed in detail as a family. But this rape scene was monumental to the storyline of the show and I’ve wrestled with allowing our family to view this together or skip over it and give the “safe” summary. After all, even an adult friend of mine admitted he couldn’t watch rape scenes in movies/tv shows and this scene was no exception. I’ve lived my life the same way: avoiding rape scenes in movies/tv shows. But is that not what was done to me when others learned of my sexual abuse? Is that not the normal response to pain, especially rape: to run and hide? How will my children ever know the world – without experiencing it firsthand (as I so often pray) – if I gloss over the horrible truths about rape and the stigma it has on the victim? Even to this day, the shame and expected silence enveloping victims is appalling. One of the greatest lessons I learned when being trained for victim advocacy with the local police department was in allowing the victims the space to suffer and mourn. To rid them of this, or speed them through this process would be detrimental to the healing that would eventually transpire. The place in which I felt most humbled and honored was when these families would allow me into their suffering – their most anguished, traumatized and painful moments – and I was invited to share in that with them. What a gift.

I decided to preview the rape scene and, hours later, I am still sorting through the many thoughts that rose to the surface. Of course it was triggering but not nearly as much as I had imagined. More so, I was bombarded by the fact that I was adverse to ever watching that scene or in having my children watch it. Do I not allow them to view the pain and struggle and death in this war we wage between good and evil? Why did I so easily fall for the glossed-over stigma? Did I feel my children would be better off if they never witnessed this horror? I know better. Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person” as well as “bodily marks or pains resembling the wounds of the crucified Jesus”. Very interesting. How very different we’d view our salvation without the “stigma”, the suffering and wounds, our Savior took on our behalf.

I recently watched a beautiful video of Eugene Peterson and Bono discussing the Psalms and the necessity in sharing our honesty, even in – ESPECIALLY IN – pain, struggle and despair. I was inspired and filled with hope as Eugene spoke of the Psalms “It’s not smooth. It’s not nice. It’s not pretty. But it’s honest and I think we’re trying for honesty.” Bono added,

“… dishonesty… I find a lot of in Christian art, a lot of dishonesty…” and “Write a song about their bad marriage… write a song about how they’re, you know, pissed off at their government. Because that’s what God wants from you. That truth, ‘The Way, The Truth’. And that truthfulness, ‘Know the truth – the truth will set you free’, it’ll blow things apart. Why I’m suspicious of Christians is because of this lack of realism and I’d love to see more of that. In art and in life and in music.”

In the midst of all of this reckoning, Eugene Peterson’s perspective on the Cross came to mind. The interviewer, David Taylor, asked him, “Is there a way to read the Psalms, through Jesus’ eyes, that helps us understand violence or non-violence?” Eugene answered,

“Well, yeah, the crucifixion. Where there’s violence, there’s got to be some kind of response. And is it more violence or less? I’m glad we have crosses in every room in this house. When I look at those, I don’t think of decoration. I think this is the world we live in and it’s a world with a lot of crosses. And I just would like to spend my life doing something about that: through scripture, through preaching, through friendship. Now my, you know, years are getting shorter and I don’t have many left but I don’t want to escape that – escape the violence.”

Wow. How often have I looked at the cross and glossed over the blood and torn up flesh, looked past the suffering, to see only the glory in the resurrection? Of course, I do not discount that glory. Without that resurrection, there is no redemption. However, without that violence, the truth is, there would not have been a resurrection. Essentially, without violence, there is no redemption. To live my life under the motto of “Forgive and Forget” would be dishonest to the healing that my Savior delivered after that violence against me. To gloss over the suffering of others, would be to discredit the value of Jesus’ comfort and salvation.

So, the honesty in violence and redemption is the catalyst that points to Jesus. How very different that perspective allows me to view the suffering I’ve endured and the suffering I choose to walk through with others. I’ll end this with a passage that has brought immense peace and strength lately.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. 2 Corinthians 1:2-3 (The Message)

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

– Alexander Pope

There is hope. Light always shines in the darkness. When I say I believe in God, that I follow Jesus, it means there is a Well of abundance — an overflow — of grace and mercy from which I glean. From this Well, there is also forgiveness that the world will never understand as well as kindness and joy that causes others to scoff and share about in gossip hell or to look on me with pathetic / patronizing eyes, as if I’ve been afflicted with The Naiveté.

Three months / ten appointments later, the marital counselor’s therapy is truly taking shape into something beautiful and powerful. I’ve been given glimpses into a marriage and life that Disney could never dream, one that I would never have been able to fathom over a decade ago.

Still, there is struggle. Sometimes it’s ten steps back after three steps forward. Confusion and anger, hot-blooded and cursing, as the selfishness, pride and conditional love bursts forth. Yet… there is perseverance. Endurance. Hope. Love.

Amongst the truth, hope can fly. Amongst the grace, love endures.

To God be the Glory.

Empathy is a good thing. Empathy is necessary. There’s not enough of empathy in this world. The fighting in the world would probably cease to exist if everyone had empathy. Right?

Well, I have a problem controlling my empathy. Yes, this is a bad problem.

I’ve never known empathy to ever be a problem. As a matter of fact, the world has too much apathy and indignation and self-righteousness. Not enough people care. There’s not enough grace and love and valuing of human life.

Empathy comes very easy to me and I know that that is a miracle in and of itself. In middle and high school, I used to just rage and fight, as I was living from a central force of anger. Now, I find it a little too easy to cry when others are sad and I feel physical joy for others when there is great news. Love and compassion seem effortless as I am drawn to those that are broken-hearted and hurting. I ache for suffering and want desperately to change it and change the way it stomps out humanity. I know that all of the love and joy and empathy that I have is from God and that if left to my own depravity, I would choose to be self-involved and not care about the suffering of people, especially strangers. This empathy-prone nature sounds like such a good thing but I’ve recently learned that I have a problem guarding it.

Like anything meant for good, empathy can also be used as a tool to bring about discord. I had no idea this was happening in my own life until this week.

I’ve done a LOT of soul searching and reforming and relinquishing (to God) in the past few years. This has been the longest and deepest stretch of emotional and spiritual growth that has ever taken place in my life. This change has been painful and rough but it’s been necessary and breath-taking and glorious. For some reason, though, I couldn’t shake the fact that there was still some very deep-rooted issues going on in my life and I was struggling to find the cause. There are countless times that I will walk away from a conversation and feel like the worst person in the world. Feeling as though I just let someone gossip my ear off and talk trash about someone and I never took the high road or shined any light into the conversation. There are times when I’ll walk away from the conversation angry and upset at the person being spoken about even though they never caused me any harm. There has also been times where I’d also share my own negative feelings about (and insecurities with) people so that the conversation isn’t awkward and heavily-sided and uncomfortable. It never fails that as soon as I walk away, I feel horrible. It doesn’t happen with every conversation and I don’t feel this empathy kicking into overdrive every single time someone mentions negativity toward or about another. However, for the times that I would find myself in this situation, I’d feel like a heartless hypocrite. In my core, I know that’s a lie because I don’t know another earthly being that is more in love with humanity than I am. I have forgiven people for trauma they’ve brought on me and resumed friendships (time and time again) despite the fact that they spread gossip and lies about me. I don’t just love the loveable, I love the unloveable as well.

This isn’t a pat-myself-on-the-back blog entry. I’m admitting the fact that I’m not feeling 100% loving and full of grace all of the time and trying to figure out why it seems to tie so closely to when I’m around others. I know that the love I have can’t come from anywhere other than God. I also know that the anger I feel toward someone, after a chat with someone else, is something that I am doing wrong and something that I need to change. This is all to explain that I’ve had some fierce battles going on and I’m learning their point of entry.

Feeling the same anger and hurt that other people feel, without ever having been hurt by the person being talked about, is showing me that I’ve let my empathy get out of control. Now that I know where this dichotomy of feeling loving but not responding so loving (even though I felt that my empathizing was loving) is coming from, I know where to bring about damage control.

With God’s help, I now know that I have to start working on guarding my empathy and using it ONLY for good.

There’s been a stirring in me for quite some time. A restlessness unable to be transcribed. A rerooting of sorts. A split-second glimpse of part of the finished puzzle comprised of pieces of my life, finally fitting together after years of rolling them around in my hands.

I’ve become unsettled and it is good.

Attending the We Event for iEmpathize a few weeks ago, a dam burst within me… I know I have this immense empathy for people. I know I have a deep-rooted passion. I know I want to make a difference in the lives of others. I know that I want my past to stand for something good, for God, and not as it was intended by man. I know that without a college degree I am significantly limited with my ability to have a “legitimate” voice.

I also know that my motivations have always been wrong. I’ve wanted to change the world and that proposed change was unknowingly limited or viewed from a skewed perspective. I have always led from a place of pain. Focusing and leading others from the pain of my past, instead of from the endless strength of God. I told God where I’d be used and how I would be able to do so. I told God what difference I would make and in what way the people’s lives would change. I was ignorant and clueless. Living off of remnants of my disillusioned upbringing and trying to share that same disillusionment with others.

In the past year, combined with my continued focus on my past and dealing with it, I also read a significant book, Generous Justice. It kind of washed clean the mud and grit that had been distorting my view in the way I interact and view humanity as a whole. This entire process took me far beyond seeing that, when suffering and broken, human beings had a cap on their value and that it was up to me to help get them through this temporary struggle of life so that they could just eat or just get water or just ______. Just to keep them alive… Then I’d move on to others.

What happens after they receive that next meal or that clean water or those shoes or that jacket? What then? What if the cap, that we put on these lives, was infinite? What if the limits of their existence and worth went far beyond the temporary comforts that I (we) may bring? What if I took part (by God’s grace and help) in helping them truly live and love and find joy and beauty in every day and then empowering them to share that all with everyone around them?

Here’s where I stand in my unsettlement: I want to take people from being a victim (which places the power in the perpetrator) and from being just a survivor (which places the power, and keeps it, within the person that was harmed) to being a warrior of love and empowerment. I feel God steering me to lead women out of the pain of their past (and present) into DOING for good. For God.

Jase and I were talking through all of this and he had a great realization. In cases of sexual abuse, the fallout is usually to clam up / brush it under the rug / detach OR the result is to crumble / completely shred the life that was given you. But I want to know where the freaking warriors are. I want to find the women that can link arms with me and become a front-line toward helping those in need and giving them hope that they can rise up and succeed and make a difference in this world. I want to stand on the shit from my past and make it a strong foundation for doing good in Jesus’ name.

I am also tired of being on this island. With all of the women I’ve know in my life (and keeping the stat of *1 out of every 3 or 4 have been sexually abuse* at the forefront) I’ve only known a few to have been sexually abused. Or only a few have ever shared that with me. That is ridiculous to me.. that this kind of travesty can be so drenched in silence. In this silence, we give so much power and authority to those that have abused and they can continue doing so, while we stand idly / apathetically on the side lines.

So, here I am, ready to be a warrior. To fight. To stop listening to the enemy in his quest to smother me and grind me to a pulp. To stand up against the lies that I am nothing, that I am worthless and to start believing and focusing on God’s Truth. I want to make a difference. I want to serve and to lead and to learn and grow and water and shine. I want to stop hiding in fear and I want to share this light. Part of this recent unsettling is that I want to (finally) learn spanish, fluently, and that I want to (finally) take a mechanic class. I “see” myself opening an auto repair shop. For women, by women. I want to overcome my fear of other countries and lead women toward changing lives around them. I want to start by making a big change in the immediate “world” around me.

My prayer is that this will help at least one person and that person may not be you… so look away, hide me, delete me, or ignore me if this makes you feel uncomfortable.

I was raised in San Diego. My family (immediate and generational) had some very strong convictions with the Baptist and Evangelical demonations denominations. I am a christian and this is a story about how I’m trying to live my life the exact opposite of my christian upbringing.

As a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, and a friend that follows Jesus, I have committed my life to these promises. I will share words like sex and drugs to my children and I will teach them to love Rock and Roll. I refuse to brush problems under the rug and I refuse to let time run its course over heart-wrenching trauma; making the wounds deeper and bandaid-covered gashes infected and seemingly irreparable. I won’t allow secrets to fester in the darkness. I will demand honesty and not be hypocritical with honoring that honesty. I will encourage myself and my children to dance, especially when the beat makes people think we’re going to hell. I will foster, and deeply grow, relationships with people. Not because of what I will gain or “what heaven will gain” but because I love all people as they were made in the image of Christ. I will show love and grace just as I’ve been shown grace and love. I will allow people to choose whatever path they desire and not write them off as a lost cause for choosing the “incorrect” path. I will NEVER shoot the wounded or maim the broken, nor will I spread their stories in the sharing of “prayer requests.” I will forever help people out of their shitty pits of manure, whether they placed themselves there or not. I will never give up in trying to find ways in helping the broken and the needy, even when I’m not enough to fix it all, because *fixing it all* is not my job anyway. I will give people grace, no matter how many chances I’ve given them in the past. I refuse to place myself on any higher ground or pedestal in my living and thinking, especially when it comes to my thoughts on God, Jesus and my relationship in and through that. I will never condemn or chastise. I will never hold a picket sign in condemnation of another soul or against a person’s actions. Unless it’s found in the bible, I will never claim I know how or what God is feeling or deciding. In everything and in all of who I am, I will mirror the Jesus I admire and follow. I will graciously love and help, heal and fight for, walk and share meals with the lost, the broken, the needy, widows and orphans, the abused, the down-trodden, people on the fringe, outcasts and the “losers.” Because when it comes down to it, we’re all in the same boat anyway. And if I can forgive a molesting uncle and rapists because of the forgiveness given to me, then there HAS to be hope for me and everyone else…

Published on: Sep 2, 2011

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