Unwanted Hugs & Redefined Love

“You have gorgeous eyes. Here let me give you a hug.” As the man leaned in for a hug, I braced myself for what I expected was coming. I wasn’t threatened by him, but I sure as heck didn’t feel comfortable or respected by him. 

Hug me, Dude? Are you crazy? I mused quietly. Instinctively I found myself reminiscing of what seemed to be another life time. As a kid, I hugged everything that had a heartbeat without asking questions. Jesus? What does this man want?

“I know you from somewhere. I’m gonna give you another hug. We’re all Christians here, right? You can help me teach these people that long hugs are legit. Did I mention you have pretty eyes? Anyway, they took my kid away from me. I come here to the church to get warm. Darn, you have gorgeous eyes. We’re family, though. Can I give you another hug?”

My new “friend” and I talked for ten minutes about everything I know nothing about. Every so often he’d reach in for another hug just in time for me to remind him he was mid-sentence. He finally shrugged, squeezes my shoulder and thanked me for making him family for a day. 

As the man walked away, I grimaced over his use of the word Christian. When he used that word, I felt dread for the liberties I knew he’d take, not joyful fellowship. I felt skeptical, not blessed. I felt slightly used, not united. 

BabyGirl, it doesn’t matter what he meant to accomplish by using that title, I heard God whisper to my heart. What matters is how you live it out to prove his misconceptions wrong. 

I was reminded today what it meant to cling to the God who sees me when I feel as if no one else does. It wasn’t a reminder of security, it was a reminder that I am called to live differently. I am called to love when no one else knows how to love in that moment. 

Because I serve the God who sees me, I can love freely; I can even love purely. I can do my part to redefine love… Especially when doing so pushes me from my comfort zone. 

Hello, My Name is Sex?

All they were meant for was sex. They probably got fed beautiful enough lies. They most likely hated their fathers enough to believe the lies or feel as if they couldn’t speak out for protection. They were probably quietly called the hotel’s residential whores.

I mean, heck, obviously that’s what they were. Two men went into their rooms who most likely didn’t look like they could have been the girls’ fathers. The girls never left, always smiled and never called the cops. Whoredom in Alaska isn’t that hard to imagine. Right? We could stand back and mentally write their story and possibly judge them for their character. When it all comes down to it, though, it is Alaska.

Whatever floats your boat, Kiddos.

Two men in Fairbanks, Alaska, underwent a traffic citation recently which led to the seizure of narcotics and the discovery of two women under the age of 21 (Anchorage Daily News). One night being used for sex is enough. At least one of these women had been kept for over a year.

As I read their story, my heart broke in two. To be fair, women go unnoticed so often in Alaska, I was shocked to hear the men were being held accountable. I have too many young women friends who only changed their situation by the grace of God. The offending men are never pursued or only verbally threatened by an overprotective male in the woman’s life. 

Because “undercover and low-grade” trafficking is so common in Alaska, I am not shocked by the woes of these women. Mentally, I started praying over the women as soon as I saw the words trafficked and Alaska. 

Then I did something I never thought I’d do. I choked back the phrase, “Thank you for keeping them alive.” I shed a few tears and whispered, “If they don’t know You, Lord, thank you for giving them another chance. If they do know You… Oh, Jesus, do a miracle and give them the desire to continue living.”

Christians come down really heavily raising a collective rant about ending trafficking. Wholeheartedly, I couldn’t agree more. No one deserves that level of mental, emotional and Spiritual abuse. Only after those first three things are broken in a woman does she even stop to consider regretting the scars of physical and sexual abuse.

But the reality is, freeing her from her surroundings or the “Johns” who stole her innocence isn’t freeing her. The bonds go to her soul, the cage to her spirit. She feels dirty, useless, hated and abhorred. She may be able to walk the streets again, but those emotions warring for her life make her long for the bedroom again. 

According to Equality Now, 6 out of 10 women identified as trafficked victims are used for sexual exploitation. With that many “sisters” on the street being used for thirty seconds of mindless bliss, returning to her trafficked surroundings is easier if there isn’t emotional, mental and spiritual protection and support. She’ll be seen as needy. She’ll ask the same questions over and over and over again. Answer them. Every time.

With the recent story heavy on my mind, I plead for a perspective shift in my Christian brothers and sisters. Yes, work towards ending sex slavery. Yes, talk about it enough that we can’t act like it doesn’t exist. Do it proactively, though.

Be willing to be seen as the awkward prude in the grocery store who asks the nervous teen if the guy holding her hand is good to her. Look for fear. Look for hatred. Look for a tightened grip on her hand. Be willing to hold the young woman’s gaze for an almost-awkward amount of time. Even if she thinks her life is fantastic (pimps really can be sweet, smooth and pleasing), holding her eye contact can tell you so much.

Believe it or not, convincing the woman that you see her breaks her mindset that her identity will always be sex. If she tears up when you ask her her name… Whisper the truth and the call the cops. 

Tell her her name is so much more than Slave.

Prodigal Mind, Redeemed Soul

My life has been filled with asking God’s forgiveness and <trying to> force His permission.  Two years ago, that approach to Christianity was ripped to shreds when the kingdom I had built for myself was demolished. Christianity became about Christ being alive in me; not me being alive with Christ showing up on occasion. Learning to surrender on a daily, hourly and minutely basis has been an unfathomable adventure. 
Recently in a reference letter, I was described as a prodigal. I chuckled and wiped away tears as the remainder of the letter explained why my story blessed fellow Christians rather than scarred them. 

For some reason, I never expected God’s redemption to go as deeply as it does. It’s a beautiful thing when I look at my best friend and I know he only sees scars, not seeping wounds. 

It can be a terrifying mental trip trying to protect that redemption. I often forget that though my life in Christ is my responsibility, I myself am (hallelujah) Christ’s charge. What I can’t handle, He can. What I don’t understand, He does. 

A couple days ago, as I sat haggling over whether I was pleasing God “enough,” I broke down crying. The what ifs are intimidating. As a redeemed and treasured prodigal concerned I’m not hearing God correctly for my future, it’s ulcer-forming. That particular day, I wasn’t getting the “go-ahead” I thought God and I had set up to guarantee I was doing things correctly. 

Fine, Jesus. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I’m done. You get the pieces of this mess. Do your thing. Get me out of the way. I…I surrender. Help me. Help me surrender. 

Believe me when I tell you I expected silence after that prayer. I expected the arbitrary reminder that God’s peace and grace were enough… As if that would silence the questions in my mind. 

Instead of holy silence, as I muttered “I surrender” God gave me the answer I needed along with total peace. 

It was as if I heard God whisper, “I just wanted you to give up control. I just wanted you to trust that I know your heart’s desire. I wanted you to surrender control, but even more than that, I needed you to surrender the idea that you have Me figured out. I love you, sweet Child. You are no longer a Prodigal, you’re a Child I treasure. You didn’t hear from Me for so long because you weren’t looking for Me, you were looking for your comfortzone.”

We talk so often of surrendering plans and “control” to God. What about surrendering the expectations of what God will do after we surrender?

The Detested & Invisible Man

Lord, if I’m supposed to risk something, make the guy look at me.

He never looked at me, but I recognized the rotten teeth, spastic eye movement and freaky paranoia. His prized possession seemed to be a stack of (what appeared to be) 100 copied missing person fliers. Something was seriously wrong in his life. 

I’ve been in Indiana too long. Once upon a time, my first move would have been to approach him and get his story, risking my safety simply because I know what it is to be hopeless and lonely. Now, though, all I found myself doing was running through statistics in my head for how long it would take him to get down off whatever high he was on. 

I seemed to be the only one watching him in the otherwise crowded market. For some reason, I felt anything but safe. I recognized his loneliness, though. His fear and hopelessness were old friends of mine as well. 

He bolted out of the room before I could get him to focus on me long enough to get his attention. I have no idea whether or not I missed a prime opportunity to love a stranger. I have no idea if I was intended to shed some light where, instead, I added to the noise of his confused brain. I just don’t know. 

Though I was later told my hesitation was wise, my heart broke for the man who seemed invisible. I wonder how differently he could have battled the war in his mind if anyone had been willing to identify with his emotions rather than judge his actions? 

I just wonder – What would happen if the redeemed of the Lord were willing to see sin and say, “I remember when” rather than, “Oh, but that was never me.”

There are those who have never been able to identify grace in their own lives. What if we made grace available by making our own stories of searching for grace relatable? What if we didn’t stop at simply dangling grace over their heads? 

What if we really did act like Jesus? 

Open Letter to a 501(c)3

Dear Noprofit Advocates,

This is not meant as a shaming letter. I love your passion for orphans, refugees, sex trafficked victims and any other type of mission you’ve shared with me. I love knowing God gave you that passion for a reason. I even love your boldness in standing in front of hundreds of college students and presenting your organization’s financial needs. That takes guts. Good job.

I agree with you. All you’re asking us to do is give up four coffees a month in order to support your passion-focus. You even go as far to point out that if we set a goal with a friend, we would give up less. (We’re going to ignore the fact that people like me would give up bread before we give up our coffee.) It’s a doable sacrifice for an overwhelming need. It helps that all of you are immaculate storytellers. Good job only focusing on the needs and not giving past successes. That makes it harder to say no.

Is it possible that’s what you wanted? Why can’t this be about joining you in praising God for what He’s already done and merely talking about how we’re called to support these group together? Maybe becase that’d make it easier to walk by your table with the darling kiddos’ faces staring at me without opening my wallet?

Before I go any further, please know I completely understand what it’s like raising support. My parents were missionaries and there were a few times as a kid I was confused that a pastor would invite us to speak and then no one joined the bandwagon. It’s hard not shaming people into supporting you or your passion when you know the need firsthand.

Can I share with you what I learned as I watched God provide despite what I didn’t see coming from those churches? The reality is, if every family in the pews spread their resources through every mission that walked through the door, none of the missions would feel helped. They would all feel like the people were merely doing it for the tax write off or spiritual pat on the back – not because they knew God wanted to use them financially to support something bigger than themselves. 

So, I humbly ask you to not cheapen the gifts you receive by shaming those who can’t or don’t give. Certainly, there are those who can give and don’t, but that’s none of your business. That’s between them and the Lord. But many of the God-fearing Believers in your audiences don’t give because they are already giving all they have toward something else. 

I’ll say it again, I love your passion for your organization. However, please work against playing the Judge over how many people you need to join your cause in order to get your yearly goal met. If everyone gave, if every college student sacrificed, I wonder how much less applause God would get simply because you could explain it away as good busines and financial stewardship?

You have your passions. I have mine. You can be guaranteed I have searched my heart to see if God wants me to join you in your passion. Some of your missions He has given me permission to give money to; others of you, I am that dejected college student that has learned to walk past your table with her head down.

Challenge us to pray. Challenge us to speak our questions. Challenge us to pray again, then watch God work miracles without your help.

No shame necessary.

I will join you on my side of the world proclaiming God’s faithfulness if you promise to do the same.

Sincerely,

A Pensively Challenged College Student

Check-listed Forgiveness

I idolize check-lists. I’m not a person who has to physically check off a task, but regardless, I need to know what I’m supposed to do next. You’ll get a blank stare and a few pointed questions if the extent of your offer is, “Come over whenever you want.” Mkay, great. What time is “whenever”? What do I bring? How long am I expected to be there? Is there a reason I’m coming over?

Are you expecting anything from me?

My “check-list mentality” makes Christianity intrinsically heartwrenching. It’s especially frustrating when I stand in front of the concept of forgiveness. I wronged you, you forgive me… Now, what do I do next? How many times do I need to bring it up again before it’s obsolete? Do you need me to do something before you purely love me as deeply as you did before I wronged you? 

Asking those questions towards another human being is called survival. I have learned with many that when they say, “I forgive you” what they mean is, “I’ll say something I don’t mean because I don’t want to be seen as a jerk.” Forgiveness doesn’t erase anger, but it should erase shame. Because humans are, well, humans, that doesn’t happen as often as it probably should.

But what about asking those questions when I’ve wronged my holy and righteous God and savior? Have I ever needed to ask God what His stipulations were for forgiving me? Have I ever had to look at that gift and then sheepishly ask God, “So, for how long is that mine this time? Two years? A week? What do I need to do to help you continue holding my ineptness over my head? What deals can I make with you so you won’t be angry any longer?”

No. I’ve never had to do that. He’ll listen to my train of thought, sure. But I can almost hear his heart break every time I try to add my own magic to His already perfect forgiveness.

When God sent His Son to die on the cross and Jesus’ death and resurrection paid the debt of my sin, my checklist was ripped to shreds. It’s as if He handed me a new list with only one entry:

1. You are Mine.

Silent Screams 

Whether you want to believe I’m an introvert or not, the one thing I’m not is silent. The command to “wait patiently” infers the command to be quiet and not jump ahead of the Lord. I have yet to experience a moment where that was my first choice.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and he heard my cry.” (Psalm 40:1)

The idea that I’ve waited patiently for the Lord is a relative statement. Waited? More like asked God to give me what I want and then clean up whatever mess I leave behind. Patiently? What? That’s a… that’s a thing?

The promise that my God has heard my cry has been overwhelmingly seen in my life. He holds the definition of my tears even when I do not. The fact that he inclined to me is proof that he understands that, sometimes, he has to fix the small, inconsequential things within my mind before I’m ever willing (or even able) to wait and be patient.

I put the cart before the horse again recently. I asked God to show up. He took too long. I panicked. I’m not very likable when I panic, by the way. {Insert horribly indecent joke about being female here.} When I went about fixing what I was fairly certain was broken, I could almost hear God mutter, No, Baby Girl. You don’t want to fix that. Stop it. Hold on. You’re heart wants more than your actions will get you. Hold onto Me. Wait for Me. Be silent and wait.

Yesterday as I watched God answer my heart’s cry before I could even understand its need, I almost laughed at the beauty. Despite my shortsighted assumptions, He stepped over what I thought I wanted and gave me what I needed. It hurt like nothing I’ve ever experienced, but within the pain lies the glory of God’s faithfulness.

When Psalms 40 is quoted, often time it is only quoted as an encouragement that God will hear us and we “simply” need to wait patiently. The reality is, that’s not where the Psalms’ deepest beauty is found. The deepest beauty is found when we come to terms with the fact that God inclines to us and hears more than just our prayers. 

He hears our hearts no matter how silently our hearts may be despite the words we shield it with.