I got freedom, but not from America.

If I could make some pretty general statements about 99% of people in America today, it would be that I think we all want to feel good about ourselves, and we all want to feel like we’re worth something. We all want to be loved. We all want some freedom from our insecurities.

I’ll tell you right now that that is exactly the way I feel. I need/want to know every day that I am loved by someone, approved by someone, good at something and that I am enough for someone. The thing I didn’t always know was where to look to fulfill all of those needs/wants.  I was backed into my little corner of insecurity, looking inn all the wrong places for these needs to be filled by anything that looked or felt good.

I remember times throughout high school school that I was mortified if someone made fun of the shoes that I was wearing, or if my crush made a comment about my big nose, or if I failed a test. Other times, when all of my friends had boyfriends, I thought something was wrong with me because I had never had one. I thought that I wasn’t pretty enough, or funny enough, or outgoing enough for a boy to want to date me. I needed things and people to affirm me, so I started living for those to make me feel loved.

The catalyst in my life that finally turned my eyes toward the thing that could set me free from my constant battle with my insecurity was, drum roll please…a failed romantic relationship. I know you probably all saw that coming. You’re right, it is a common event that almost all of us have experienced, and it usually changes us. Although this change hurt like a bugger, it was a small step in the right direction.

So, here’s the synopsis of my failed relationship. This boy was my first boyfriend, and obviously I was in love with him and going to marry him someday. He improved my life by 110%. He wasn’t perfect, but he treated me like a queen and loved me the best he could. I thought he was perfect for me.

I believe that relationships are a pretty awesome thing, because they give us a small taste of what perfection is. Having someone profess their love for you and shower you with affection and approval and compliments and encouragement is one of the greatest feelings in the entire world.

Unfortunately, human relationships fall short because of the sad fact that we are all human, none of us are capable of loving each other perfectly. After an unhealthy amount of time spent together, I started to think that I needed to earn my self-worth from my boyfriend at the time by acting in a way to attract him with my femininity, and I started to thrive off of his approval above all else. If I didn’t get compliments, I questioned his care for me. If he talked to another girl, I assumed that his eyes were turning away from me. I was hurt if he didn’t say he loved me before he dropped me off at my class even if he had said it one million times before. I was in a major identity crisis and I put my heart in the hands of an innocent person who wasn’t capable of loving me the way I needed to be loved.

One day, my source of self-worth was exhausted when I experienced my first break-up. I was lost. I felt rejected, I felt hopeless, I felt worthless. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I cried enough tears to fill a river. I played over regrets in my mind constantly and longed for the situation to be reversed. I lost a good 20 lbs without trying and cursed God for taking away the one person that made me happy. I did irrational things and made a lot of stupid mistakes. After months of feeling like the most low person alive, I hit a fork in the road.

One night, as I sat on my bedroom floor with a bottle of pills, my kneecaps bleeding from scratches I made as a confused and desperate act to feel a different kind of pain than the emotional pain I was feeling, I asked God to give me a reason to stay alive. Not seconds later, I caught a glimpse of the corner of my little blue Bible piled under a huge (and typical) mess of clothes. I opened it up, read something in Isaiah and started crying. God spoke to me that night and told me that He wasn’t finished with me yet through that little passage in Isaiah even though I can’t even remember what it said specifically. He answered my spiteful and doubting prayer for a reason to live, and in that moment He showed me that He loved me.

From that night on, I turned to the thing that I always subconsciously knew would make me feel better, bettering my relationship with God.  I embarked on a journey to learn what it really meant to be a Christian. I chose to attend a Bible College despite the high cost of attending a private school because I was serious this time about learning more about God.

I remember one specific day that I had an epiphany in either a chapel session or a Bible Conference session that we had in my first couples months at Baptist Bible College. The speaker was talking about the Gospel (the story of Christ’s atoning death for our sins) and did something awesome. He pulled out a paper and went down a huge list of common sins, big and small, most of which I had been guilty of and probably still am. He called Christians out on their hypocritical actions. I started to feel really bad about myself when I realized these things displeased God, like a lot. All of my sins convicted me to the core. If I was honest with myself, I wasn’t really what I considered a good Christian.  What happened next surprised me. The speaker tore up the list, threw it on the ground and said, “this is what Jesus does to your sin.” I wanted to cry. At that moment, I finally understood the Gospel. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for my sins. Jesus takes my list of sins and tears it up. He gives me a fresh piece of paper to work with every day.

Jesus Christ, God incarnate, loves me better than anyone ever has, and He thinks that I’m worth enough to die for. I don’t have to earn or prove anything to be loved by Him. He’s the only perfect person to ever walk the earth, and He’s always there for me 24/7, 365 days a year. He listens to me and He knows my thoughts. He’s seen the best and the worst of me, but He still chooses to love me, bless me, and He gives me a new reason to love my life every day. I ask Him to provide, and when I wait on His timing, He provides for my needs with even better gifts than I asked for. He has never given up on me, and if you trust Him and obey His Word, He will do the same for you.

I’ve found the love and affirmation that I’ve always wanted in God, and I am truly free.

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The Facts About Poverty

Poverty. When most people hear this word, they shy away. They choose not to mentally picture run down shacks, homelessness, and little children running around, snot-nosed, hungry, and under-dressed. Why is that? Is it because their hearts would be in pain from thinking about it? Or because they choose not to help change the poverty that surrounds them?

What is poverty? Let’s first understand that there are two types of poverty: generational (poverty has inflicted the family for two or more generations), and situational (a job loss, death, etc. has caused a family to momentarily go into lack). Whenever the word ‘poverty’ is stated in this article, it will be referring to generational poverty. Poverty is often a mentality and attitude that begins throughout specific generations and grows with every generation. Its where people are lacking in consistent on-going education, health, safety, community, and are generally beaten down by society. They begin to lose hope and believe that taking hand outs is normal. That food stamps are their only way of life and government handouts are the way to go. This is because they witnessed their parents and sometimes, even their grandparents and great-grandparents take part in these programs.

In America, nearly 46 million people live at or below the poverty line, which is considered 23,000 dollars a year for a family of four. Currently, if a person worked full time, at minimum wage, assuming they had paid sick days, they would only make a little over 15,000 dollars a year. About 10.5 million of these people are considered the working poor and only hold part-time jobs.

Here’s the deal. Poverty has become a generational norm. But there’s a bigger problem then their lack. These people know nothing else. Some don’t know how to go get a job or lack the education to get said job. They are so used to this way life, they couldn’t dream of changing it. More often then not, they will continue to take government assistance for the rest of their lives.

Sometimes, the people afflicted with poverty, are abused. Studies show that further below the poverty line a family falls, the chance for child abuse and neglect rises. The young boys and girls are sexually, verbally, and physically assaulted by their relatives and family friends. There’s no where for them to turn, so the abuse continues on. This attributes to the poverty mentality that is found in the generations because it is thrown at them from a young age.

What can we do to reach out to those in poverty? How can we show them the love of Christ? Can the bonds of generational poverty be broken?

 

We are all Slaves

This blog post will not inform you, but plant a question in your mind.

“How deep (or high up) does slavery run?”

By that I mean this; could there be more slaves than we think? Could the people who both buy and sell other people be slaves themselves? I’m going to give two answers, the first comes from the God-fearing/loving/obeying part of me (which is most of me).

Romans 6 is clear to tell us that everyone is either a slave to sin or to righteousness. Romans 6:16 “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

I AM A SLAVE. YOU ARE A SLAVE. WE ARE SLAVES.

BUT GOD…has freed us all. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The master you serve is your own personal choice, it’s either yourself or God. So I have chosen to serve God and be completely free. I am a slave to righteousness and by being this slave, I am set free.

So, the buyers and sellers of people are slaves in this first way, to sin they are bound and to sin they shall give their lives. Unless God intervenes into their hearts and minds.

Now for my modern day slavery answer: Could these buyers and sellers be slaves to someone else, who is forcing them to buy and sell others? I hope this thought isn’t new. The implications of this thought are huge. How deep (or high up) does the slave trade go?

These questions have been eating away at me for a month now, and I’m still without an answer. I researched for hours and came back without fruit. I prayed about this post for hours and came to the conclusion that I may never know just how high up slavery goes.

So yes. The buyers and sellers of people are slaves themselves. Their master is themselves and their god is the money in their pocket. But we cannot forget to help them see  the huge error in their ways and set them free from the ignorance diluting their ways.

We are all slaves. We are either a slave to sin, which will kill us, or we are a slave to God, whom sets us free.

The choice is yours.

 

When Your Heart Stops

With a news feed full of stories and exhortations from justice organizations, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing images of hard-working, exploited children. It’s not that I’ve stopped caring or lost my horror of these realities, but the heart-jolting compassion towards it was decreasing in compelling power. I’ve seen the lost and broken hearts peering dimly through burdened eyes many times before.

It starts to become numbers. Fact sheets. Distant.

Scrolling through yet another blog post with yet another story of a blogger/photographer traveling and seeing grave injustice firsthand, one little girl grabbed my heart and completely stopped it.

Her eyes gripped mine and everything in me fought to pull away but she held tight. She would not let me scroll by. She would not let me turn away. She would not let me figure some organization would take care of her. She gripped me with all the little willpower her nearly-hardened heart still had.

Her eyes plead with every scrap of hope she had left. Her matter-of-fact acceptance of the stone she carried on her head told every story she could never voice. He calloused arms meant nothing compared to her tear-stained but unaffected face.

To her, this was just life.

But somewhere she knew it shouldn’t be. The part of her that knew her true worth gripped that same part of me. This image, this precious little girl, clung to my soul and asked me why. Why.

My heart stopped. My eyes flooded. Then I screamed.

None of my tears or broken-hearted compassion would change anything about her life.

I could do nothing.

Nothing.

Every small thing I do suddenly seemed much smaller.

My little choices that involve little true sacrifice and little true hardship cannot possibly make any real difference to this girl and those like her.

And yet they must.

She pled for anything coming from genuine love. She pled for the small things. Those eyes asked not for a free life, but simply for a free smile. They begged not for a lighter load, but for a lighter heart.

She compelled me to love.

My little choices to live Christ’s genuine love instead of my own selfishness are the answer to those gripping eyes. The small choices of small people to live small lives characterized by justice and love will be the small breath of fresh air that lifts the stone from this child’s head and sends her dancing on the mountaintops of freedom and joy.

Christ will triumph.

Keep these things close to your heart. Let your heart break over these things. Let them tear you up. Let them challenge and uproot you to the core of your being.

But know. Know. Know that it is for such as these that Christ died. Know that he defeated that death. Know that he gives life. That he is still giving life. Know that he is giving life to such as these.

Choose to fall apart, choose to love with everything you have, and choose to know that Christ is already proclaiming victory.

 

(You can find this image, along with many other heart-breaking moments captured by Steve McCurry, on his blog here link).

Wrapped Around his Finger

This guest post was written by a dear friend of mine who wishes, for her safety, to remain anonymous.  We have chosen not to sugar-coat or gloss over the details of the story.  This is reality as she recalls it, and it is beneficial at times to hear a story exactly as it is, without protecting our ears from words we don’t like or our eyes from pictures that hurt.  She lived this story.  She deserves to be heard.  However, not everyone is in a place to read this story.  Trigger warning for rape and abuse, and caution for youthful readers.  I also note that this story is here represented exactly as she wrote it, with only minor grammatical edits.

It is important to read these stories with incredibly open compassion.  Realize that this girl is a person just like you and I.  She laughs with her friends, procrastinates on her homework, and embraces apprehensive excitement in her dreams.  Just like you and I.  She is not a victim.  She is a person who was victimized.  Her identity and personhood are exactly the same as every other human being.  Love her as your sister and friend.  Learn with her from her experiences, do not identify her by them.

Remember, the fact that she can look back and tell this story with openness and strength is beautiful and full of hope.  Read her story to understand injustice and pain.  But do not forget beauty and joy.  


A year ago, I was broken.  Bleeding.  Crying out for help.  No one was there.  Except for him.  My cries fell on deaf ears.  “Please stop.. Please.” “Stop! You’re hurting me!” “Why me?” and many other pleas slipped off my tongue, among the tears.

As my boyfriend raped me, all I could do was cry and ask him to stop.  And wonder.  Wonder why God was letting this happen.  I suppose I should of seen it coming, however, after months of mental and emotional abuse, I was held completely captive by this boy.  He had made me believe that I was fat, ugly, stupid, and oh so many more negative thoughts.  He made me believe I loved him.

This is my story.

A story that begins in the summer of 2012, when I encountered what I believed to be young love, something that was supposed to be amazing.  Looking back, there were signs from the start that he was a manipulator.  If only I could go back and look into my eyes and say, “This is not what God wants for you.  Stop.  Turn around.  And flee.”   Since that is not an option, I will continue on with my story.  The first few months weren’t bad, but little things happened which were tell tale signs of a manipulator.  He made me believe that he had no female friends and since he didn’t, I shouldn’t talk to male friends.  So slowly, in order to please him, I distanced myself from several guy friends.  He left the subject alone for awhile.  He did things that would gain my trust.  I believe that he studied me, so that he knew what I liked and what I disliked, so that I would stick around.  He also figured out that the more he threatened to kill himself, the more entrapped I was in his web of lies, the more I cared, and the more determined I was to fix him.  From then on, he created problems for himself so that he could make me pity him.  So that he could wrap me around his finger.

Fast forward to a week before Christmas 2012.  Finding Nemo is playing on the TV.  My boyfriend is on the couch next to me.  Before I knew it, he had forced me to do some things.  Why I didn’t call for help is beyond me.  I felt small and violated.  The rest of the night is a haze.  I remember coming home though and acting like everything was alright and going to bed and crying for hours.  I had never felt so dirty and used before.  I was always the good girl.. Who was I to allow myself to have my hand stuck down some guys pants?  Once again, I should have had warnings flying through my head.  I could have made sure it went no further.  I should have, but I didn’t.

By Valentines Day, I was getting used to being gagged and having his penis shoved down my throat.  I just took it.  I didn’t think about it.  It was a reaction.  He had begun to call me rude and insulting names, which I refuse to repeat.  He used me for pleasure and threatened that worse would happen if I said no.  I believed him and continued to lie to myself that he did this because he loved me and that I loved him.  I knew this wasn’t love..  I knew it was abuse, but I could not admit it to myself.  If I could talk to myself then, I would say to tell him no.  To not allow it go further.  That this wasn’t love, it was abuse.  That I was being used and that I was too independent to allow a boy to control me.  I would ask myself what happened to my carefree dreams, where all I wanted to do was write and help people.  Where did that girl go?

The answer to that question is found around the corner of my story.  The part where the fly on the wall would see me shoved against a wall, wearing a deer in the headlights look.  It would see me being verbally abused.  Told that I was a whore.  A no good whore.  It would see me being accused of cheating and whatever else came out of his mouth.  It would see his hands on my hips, leaving a bruise because I was underweight.  It would feel my shoulder blades being pushed into the wall.  It would probably feel the brokenness crashing onto me in waves.  This was the only time he physically abused me like that.  But it was here that the rest of the independent, head-strong girl walked out and was replaced with a timid little mouse of a girl.

Jumping ahead into 2013.  I am now on a family vacation.  He’s threatening to rape me when I come back, if I don’t make him a video of me masturbating.  He sets the guidelines and tells me “I won’t talk to you until you have promised you have done it.  And if you don’t do it, I will force you to have sex with me.”  Being the scared person I was, I did as I was told.  I was afraid.  I was deathly afraid of being violated even more then I had already been.  I felt worthless.  I wanted to die.  When I came back, I showed him the video.  He seemed pleased with it, which scared me even more.  Before long, I was ordered to go somewhere and wait.  My ghost-like person wandered to the place I was supposed to go and waited.  Not very long after I showed up, he was there.  He ripped my pants off and forced fingers into me.. telling me to “take it, bitch.”  I closed my eyes, wishing him to go away.  But he didn’t.  He only pressed me against the wall and shoved his penis up my butt.  He didn’t wait, didn’t slow down, and didn’t take any precaution against hurting me.  At this point, I was begging God to make it stop.  To make the pain go away.  Nothing happened.  I was told I couldn’t scream.  Because no one else could know what was happening.  So I let him have his way with me because I was afraid that if I screamed, he would hurt me more.  Whenever he was done, he pulled his pants back up, and gently set me down on the floor.  Telling me that he would see me outside.  At that moment, I laid down and cried.  I cried because I had lost a part of me.  I cried because of the pain.  I cried for myself.

Weeks later, whenever I had finally been able to sit down, he told me he was going to kill himself if I didn’t come to his house right then.  It was summer.  A disastrous year since we had started “dating”.  I was empty and felt no love towards him.  But I still couldn’t stand him threatening suicide.  So being the faithful little shell I was, I rode to his house on a four-wheeler in the dead of night.  (Even as I’m writing this now, I’m wanting to slam my head on the desk.  I can be really idiotic.)  When I got there, he was waiting outside.  He hugged me, like he said he wanted to do, and I wanted him to do.  I wanted to know he was human and not a monster.  He led me into a shed where he set me on a couch and began to undress me.  I panicked.  I tried to cover myself up with my arms.  His eyes hungrily scanned over my body.  He barked his next order “Don’t cover up your body.”  He grabbed my wrist and dragged it out to my side, where he pinned it against the couch.  He told me that he was going to have sex with me and be my first.  “No. Please don’t.  I don’t want it this way,” I told him. But he did it anyway.  He took the one thing I had left to give to my future husband, my virginity.  Now, many girls today wouldn’t understand.  But it was all I had left to give him as a first.  And I wanted whoever married me, even though I had problems and was broken, to have something first.  I didn’t want him to believe he was marrying a broken piece of junk that was recycled.  However, that was no more because this little piece of crap, my boyfriend, stole it.  I begged him to stop and cried and begged some more.  Nothing happened.  I couldn’t figure out why God wasn’t there.  Why He didn’t barge in and throw the guy off of me.  Why He didn’t come in and hold me and whisper that it was going to be okay.

What did happen was, we got caught sneaking out.  We had a “lecture” sitting in my driveway.  While parents scolded, he sat across from me, glaring at me.  His eyes were almost taunting me to tell.  Who would believe the girl that rode a four-wheeler to see him?  I didn’t tell.  I just sat there and silently wept under the moonlight.   My mother glared at me, her eyes labeling me as the biggest disappointment and burden in her life.  As I got up to go inside, my mom ordered me to her room.  I went in.  She started talking about how irresponsible I was and asked for comments.  All I could do at 5 A.M was scream that I hated her and that she was focusing on the wrong things.  And you know what?  She did what she always does.  She ignored my issues and let me walk out.  Didn’t ask if I was okay or if anything was wrong.  This was the moment I realized she didn’t care about me either.  I went to my bed and cried for what must of been hours.  I was rudely awakened at 10 and told that I didn’t deserve to sleep.

After that, it happened once more.  He pinned me to the floor of the church and had his way with me.  And that time?  I didn’t beg him to stop.. I just stared at the ceiling and waited for him to be done.  When he was done, I went to the bathroom and cleaned up the bit of blood.

Yes, this is a tainted part of my story.  It has taught me not to trust too easily, sway my thoughts, and what love really is.  Love is not physical actions that are taken.  Love is in warm hugs and kind words.  If I could give anyone experiencing anything like this, it would be to tell someone that you trust.  Someone that can help you.  It would be to say no and always remember that whatever happens, is not your fault.

 

“He has sent me [Christ] to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound”

Isaiah 61:1b

Ending My Silence

On a nice warm summer day in June of 2008, my mother was out in our driveway sitting in her purple lawn chair sipping an iced coffee as strangers walked around tables looking at old junk to buy. My mom had always loved a good yard sale. I, however, had to go down and remove at least one stuffed animal from the pile (even though I was a freshman in High School) to be saved from the clutches of an uncaring stranger. While I was sifting through the mound of fluffy eyes, each one begging to be saved, I heard a woman ask a man, whom I assumed to be her husband, if any of these items were either made in America, or Fare Trade. He replied with a sigh and said “unfortunately no”. “I don’t want something made by an enslaved child” the woman replied. “I know honey, me neither.” And with that, the couple walked back to their car and drove off.

“Slavery was abolished by Lincoln, so what are they talking about?” I thought. Little did I know, just how far fro the truth I actually was.

I was fourteen, so my ignorance up to that point could’ve been chalked up to being young and carefree, but the truth is, deep down I knew this to be true. I knew that somewhere in China, India, Thailand…ect. A poor, underpaid (if paid at all) human being was making all of my first world comforts. From my shoes, clothes, and the coffee I have been addicted to since I was ten, most, if not all, have been made by the exploited hands of the innocent.

On that day I began a journey. I Google searched “Child Slavery” and was immediately drowning in a sea of facts, percentages, websites, blogs, and pictures of children whom had the same “save me” look as the stuffed animals being sold on my front lawn. But I kept silent; I kept all this inside. I didn’t know who to go to and I didn’t even know what to say. So I prayed from that day on, not just for the freedom of the children and the other men and women, but for the buyers and sellers of these humans to somehow see the terrible error in their gross and inhumane ways. I prayed and kept up with International Justice Mission (IJM) and Somaly Mam, whom, despite the recent expose, is still a hero in my eyes. For years I silently watched movements being made and listened as people spoke up and fought back. But it wasn’t enough; God didn’t create me for the sidelines and I now know that.

Fast forward to college life, as soon as I arrived, I searched for ways to be involved, to create for myself a voice from which only love, acceptance, and truth were being spoken. And as I grew and matured as a person, so did my voice. As a result of this growth, God handed me an opportunity to use twitter to fight against Child Slavery, and stand for 24hrs in the heart of Scranton PA speaking out against the dark and hidden world a modern day slavery. In those 24hrs, I spoke to many different people from all walks of life and watched as people became more aware of the slavery and human trafficking around them. My heart fluttered at each new person that either my teammates or I spoke with. But this was just one day…I have many more to live.

These are the words of the Graceful God that I serve: Jeremiah 22:3 “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

A life lesson: our silence is just as worse as any evil done. As well as that this world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. I am done being a silent observer. For my God doesn’t create second-string players. Each and every one of us was created as a starting player. Each one of us has a choice, we can either endorse the evil around us with our silence or to yell, scream, and fight…and end the silence.

I can’t answer for you. But I choose the latter.

Finding Hope in #HowOldWereYou

Nine. Fourteen. Six. Seventeen. Eleven. Four. Eight. Two.

The numbers took over my Twitter feed, and I wished, oh, how I wished that they were just numbers.

But they weren’t numbers, they were the ages of people.  

Precious young children violated by authorities they loved and trusted. Scarred and hurt more deeply than even they can understand. Carelessly manipulated by the very people posing to teach them what love, truth, and respect are.

It’s heartbreaking to read the stories shared with the hashtag “HowOldWereYou.” It’s heartbreaking the validity with which Karen Prior could ask the question of “when” not “if” children have been pursued sexually by adult authorities. It’s heartbreaking that sexual abuse of children is a common reality.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, now would be a good time to go read the story behind the hashtag here.

Back? Mkay.

As I followed the conversation this hashtag created, my heartbreak was joined by a tremendous hope and excitement. Yes, these stories are horrible, but they are finally being shared! Eyes are opening, perspectives changing, loneliness lifting, and ignorance passing.  These victims are being heard, and the truth they are sharing is creating change.

Sad as these stories are, this hashtag is a huge step the right direction.

These stories need to be told, need to be heard, and they are.

It’s happening, folks.  Don’t get so lost in the stories that you miss the significance of the fact that you’re hearing them. 

#HowOldWereYou is a good thing.  It’s beautiful.  

 

And now I ask you.  How old were you?