Jamie The Very Worst Missionary

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inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations from an American Missionary.
Updated: 15 min 47 sec ago

My Life As a Painting

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 15:04
I'm telling you, that guest post giveaway did not disappoint! Today, I'm excited to share this post from winner, Julia Frey. I hope you love it as much as I do. Welcome, Julia!>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>|<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<My Life As a PaintingOne of my most favourite places in the world is The National Gallery in London. I try to make a quick stop there as often as my life allows. Although it contains an astoundingly large collection of European art I am always drawn to the Impressionists. Every time I walk up to that section I get so overcome with emotion that I am sure everyone else can see my visible goosebumps. There is something special about the Impressionists that sets them apart in my mind and in the world of art.For one thing, the paintings don’t look realistic. Early Impressionists faced criticism not only because the paintings looked blurry, childlike, unskilled and undignified but also because they seemed to be interested in the sort of common, almost mundane subjects that were beneath the attention of traditional painters. Like many others I particularly love their depiction of light: soft, dreamy, and life-giving. But rather than recognizing the incredible beauty of this new style the majority of early onlookers described their work as a BIG MESS. When at age 14 I first learned about the Impressionist movement, I also learned that to appreciate paintings done in that style, you have to step back, quiet your soul and allow the painting speak to you. From the first time I’d done that I became a committed fan.Monet's Impression, sunriseEver so often I feel that my life is very much like a blurry, moody and prosaic impressionist painting, with the only thing that is clear being the Light always present within it. I am often the poor soul standing too close to a Monet in the National Gallery, unable to discern beauty and purpose in the chaos. I am peering impatiently in the present, struggling to work out what is the purpose and meaning of it all while demanding the Artist to explain himself and bring things into focus. A few years back I was living through time of chaos and uncertainty, one of those wonderful times where what could go wrong, did. The beauty in it all was not easily found. Although in my better moments I could catch glimpses of something special, all too often they ended up buried in the mess. My family had moved to a new country, the rules of which seemed unfamiliar and harsh. We came as missionaries and even as I type the word I wince because all kinds of misconceptions that are built into it through the centuries of Christendom. Our world is changing which should impact how we do missions - especially in Europe - but we were learning quickly and painfully that not everyone back home was “in sync” with that idea. To make matters worse, while my husband fit in nicely by a sheer virtue of being a man I was desperately searching for my place. In the end I had to walk away empty-handed. Disappointment was one ugly word that hung over my life. Frustration and bitterness were starting to fester, mixed in with normal life things like paying rent in one of the world’s most outrageously expensive cities. You might guess why, with the ‘big mess’ my life appeared to be, I doubted everything. What shook me out of that funk was a quick stop at the National Gallery, an “aha moment” that clarity was not at all what the Impressionist artists set out to achieve. Their goal was to jolt you, make you think and stir you.  All I had to do was to step back from the action, allow my soul to rest quietly with Jesus and suddenly I was able to perceive his faithful and loving hand at work, even in the midst of my mess. I still didn’t see his purpose but I was able to trust him again. If you are in a similar place, studying your life far too closely in an attempt to figure out what is in front of you, try to remember the cardinal rules of enjoying art:1. Step away from the painting.2. Quiet your soul.3. Allow it to move you.After all, the meaning of our life is not in the fine details but in the overall impression we leave on the people around us, and in the beauty that the Father draws out from the greatest chaos of our own lives.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>|<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<     About Julia: 
"Moving to England as a missionary along with my husband Brad and our two children didn’t seem like a big life changing event. After all, I’ve called Russia, US, Philippines, Canada and now UK my home for the last 15 years, so adjusting to a new culture was going to be a breeze, right? But different countries present different challenges and opportunities and through my blog I share bits of mine cooked into delicious food on my blog Vikalinka, at least whenever I have free time away from my day job as an English teacher.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>|<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<Do the details of your life ever distract you from the big picture? 

Did You Say *Shorts*?

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 13:04
While I've never met her in real life, our paths cross with frequency in internet land, so I can't even tell you how happy I was when my little raffle generator randomly chose Diana Trautwein's name as the winner of a guest spot here. When she admitted a little trepidation about writing for you people, "What do they possibly want to hear from a nearly 70-year-old retired pastor-at-mid-life with a passel of grandkids and a creaky body?", I replied, "The world has a lot to learn from a nearly 70-year-old retired pastor-at-mid-life with a passel of grandkids and a creaky body. We're listening!" Welcome, Diane! And thank you.
Did You Say Shorts?Getting old is ripe with indignities. Go ahead, ask me how I know. I watch my 93-year-old mom take daily steps further into the haze of dementia, and I fear for the future. And then I realize -- the future is here. Yowza.
In four months, I will be 70 years old. 7-0. I remember struggling a bit with 35, taking a deep breath at 40, sort of reveling in 50 and feeling resolute about 60. But 70?
The word that comes to mind is sobering.

More than a little bit humiliating.Case in point. About a year ago, I injured my left foot while taking a morning walk -- on vacation, no less. That led to a couple of months of physical therapy, which led to a different injury, same foot, which led to three months of tests, boots, ice packs, and assorted piles of pillows. Ultimately, a new set of x-rays revealed a congenitally crooked heel bone, which had likely led to the two tendon insults in the first place, one of which proved to be a nearly irreparable tear.
And that meant surgery -- to break and reset (with two titanium screws) that gnarly bone problem and to clean-up and re-connect the bashed tendon. Which meant, NO weight-bearing for a minimum of two months.
And? Ta-da. MORE physical therapy. I am happy to report that I am now walking, in two shoes, and trying to re-learn how to move this elderly ankle of mine. And just last week, I was invited to try out a brand, spankin’ new, space-age treadmill called the Super G.

Super G.
What they did not tell me is that to use this machine, I had to wriggle myself into a pair of strangely shaped walking shorts made of neoprene. Listen to me now -- I have not worn shorts of any kind in over twenty years. Twenty years. Even when I was younger, stronger, and more shapely, getting into this particular pair of shorts would have been a good trick. Now? Holy Toledo, it is . . . well, humiliating.
In a good way, of course. Yeah, that is pretty much the oxymoron of the century, I know. But what this strange, gravity-defying machine is teaching me is that sometimes humiliation can be a very good thing.
And the humiliation does not stop with the ugly shorts. Oh, no. The plastic bubble, that encases the treadmill and is zipped to the shorts into which I have stuffed myself, comes equipped with two cameras, one of which shows the backs of these nearly 70-year-old legs as I re-learn how to walk in a gravity-controlled environment. Yup, every varicose vein, every age spot, every scar shows up on an over-sized TV screen mounted in front of my face as I walk.
But. I am walking! And at 50% gravity, I am walking normally, with no pain, no limp, no stiffness. So I am learning to put up with the view, in fact in a small corner of my heart, I am celebrating the view, and thanking God for the gifts that come with technology and human inventiveness.
These ugly old legs have served me well over this life of mine. They’ve walked me through a great education, they caught the eye of the man who would become my remarkable husband, walked the red-dirt roads of central Africa for a couple of years, helped to push out three of the planet’s finest human creatures, took me to school concerts, choir practice, four years of seminary classes, seventeen years of pastoral ministry. They’ve walked me right into grandparenting a fine crew of people, the eldest of whom is now the age I was when his mom was born, and the youngest, still small enough to gather up in a big hug.
Yes, these legs are old. They are scarred, they are imperfect, and right now, they need a little help to walk well. But they’re still strong, still take me where I need to go, still let me offer my gifts and tell my stories to all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
So when I squeeze myself into those shorts later this afternoon, I’m going to try and concentrate on how this particular humiliation is opening the door to healing. I’m sure I’ll blush, make self-deprecating remarks and wish like crazy I could find an easier way to do this! But in the end, I am praying for the grace to recognize that a step toward healing is a step toward healing, no matter what indignities I may have to endure to get there.


Diana is "a retired-part-time-pastor-learning-to-be-a-spiritual-director with a family I adore sensing an increasingly urgent call to write-my-life-down, to preserve my sanity and create some space to breath."

Read more on her blog, www.dianatrautwein.com, and be sure to follow along with her on Facebook and Twitter


What are the indignities of life be teaching you? 
And also. When was the last time you wore shorts?.... (I cannot even remember.)

FREEDOM ISN'T FREE! ...Actually, it's not even a bargain. (Plus a $50 Freedom Culture giveaway!)

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 19:19

If there's one thing Americans love, it's food!

...I mean... freedom, Americans love freedom. 

And if Americans know one thing about freedom, it's that freedom isn't free. Oh, man, we love that slogan -- it's everywhere around here. We declare this truth with our starred and striped bumper stickers and license plate frames, lawn signs, tee shirts, rubber bracelets, phone cases, key chains, and tattoos. Liberty and Justice are our birthright, and we're pretty serious about letting everybody know. 

Our history books, bursting with accounts of wars fought and people lost, have taught us to value our freedom. Our Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors paid for our liberty in the currency of lives and limbs.

Freedom isn't free. This we know. This we understand at a core level.

We even celebrate our beloved independence as a nation every year with fire works and beer and BBQ, to remind us that war is terrible and millions have been maimed and killed by it -- but not just so we would be free to get drunk and light money on fire. They died so we would be both protected by our government and free from its tyranny. The flaming drunk part is just a bonus.

That's just talking about regular old Americans, I haven't even mentioned the Christian Americans. Oh, yes. Christian Americans dig freedom even more than dirty heathen Americans, because we revel in yet another kind of freedom.

I'm talkin'bout Freedom in Christ, baby!

Naturally, "Freedom in Christ" and its variations often proudly accompany the "Freedom isn't Free" thing on Bible covers and bookmarks, refrigerator magnets, hoodies, bumper stickers and ceramic figurines of Jesus holding the lifeless body of a soldier, cop, or firefighter under the shadow of a waving America flag. (Talk about blessed! First we were born into a land of wealth and liberty, and then we were adopted into God's family and gained His inheritance, too.  WHAT?! I KNOW! We are, like, the freest, you guys.)

And it's all because someone was willing to pay the price.

I am free, physically and spiritually, because of the sacrifice of another.

I'm free because someone decided I was worth it.

I'm worth the loss. I'm worth the cost. I'm worth the giving up and the laying down of life.

... I'm just not all that willing to pay it forward. 

See, when I say I value freedom, what I mean is I value MY freedom.

The truth is, when it comes to making sacrifices (even small monetary ones) in order to bring freedom to modern-day slaves, I balk. I hesitate. And then I make excuses so I don't have to pay up.

I know when I choose to buy goods from organizations that support fare wages and healthy work spaces, I'm actually helping put an end to slavery. I know that when I choose to spend more money on a product because it was made without slave labor, I'm sending a clear message to manufacturers that I value freedom. I know I can make purchases that both support the global economy and honor the global laborer.

It just seems like, as much as I love to be free, I love to be cheap even more.  Freedom isn't free... but it's also not a bargain.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I LOVE a bargain. Clearance is like crack to me. I cannot turn away from the clearance racks, it's like an illness. I picked up this addictive habit at my favorite store in the whole wide world, whose slogan is "Expect more. Pay less." And, oh, I do.

The slogan of most anti-slavery retailers could be "Expect less. Pay more."...but that would be really shitty marketing, so never mind... The point is, it does costs more to buy a well-made tee shirt from an ethical store, because it cost more to give an employee an ethical wage. Freedom really isn't free... like, it actually costs money.

And someone has to be willing to pay the price. 

I admit, I'm spoiled! I have come to expect a lot for a little. I believe I need far more than I actually need, and then to fill those imaginary needs I buy a bunch of cheap stuff. I live out this lie on repeat, never stopping to ask myself what would happen if I stopped the cycle. Never exploring the possibility of what life would look like if I buy less crap.

Maybe, if I bought fewer things, I could afford to spend more on one slightly more expensive thing. And then, maybe, I could enjoy that one thing - even though it cost me more money - for the added assurance that I am not an actual, for real, modern day slave driver. That would be nice.

But that would require me to make a sacrifice.

That would require me to be the one willing to pay the price for someone else's freedom.

And, honestly, as a die-hard American and a sold-out Christian, I'm just not sure how I feel about that...


Oh, hey! Speaking of awesome retailers who specialize in ethical clothing!!! Today's kickass giveaway is a $50 gift card from the fine folks at Freedom Culture. They're clothing line is so great AND THEY HAVE MENSWEAR -- You're welcome guys! *high fives all the dudes* Plus? Free shipping in the U.S.  And? They're offering a sweet discount to The Very Worst Missionary readers, I think because they love you best of all. Use this discount code at check out and you'll 35% off regular priced items: JAMIEFC35 

Check out Freedom Culture at www.freedomculture.com!(Pssst. Don't tell anyone I said this, but I totally hope you win!)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Very Worst Buyers Guide to Ethical Shopping.

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 20:28
When you talk about making a conscious effort to buy fair trade products from ethically responsible sources, you'll find there are A LOT of people who share that burden and sincerely want to change there consumer habits, but who don't know where to start.
 So today, instead of a nifty little raffle only one person can win, I want to give everyone a comprehensive shopping guide to aid in the search for positive ways to impact the world with purchase power. 
Shopping season nearly is upon us. *shudder*
Christmas is just around the corner, and I bet a few of you have already begun to accumulate the mountain of carefully selected gifts you'll give this year. The normal people rest of us are just gearing up, collecting ideas, making lists, stalking Amazon for the cheapest perfect expression of our obligation to give everyone we're forced to interact with a present for Jesus' birthday love for our family and friends on Christmas. There really could be no better time to share a buyers guide for all you conscientious consumers than right now! 
But there is one teeeeeny tiiiiiny problem.

See, the thing is.... uuuuuuuuuummmmmmm....
Ok. Fine. I don't actually have an Ethical Purchase Buyers Guide
What?! I'M SORRY!! Jeez, haven't you ever heard "it's the thought that counts"? Well, I THOUGHT about creating an awesome buying guide for you, but I am a busy-ass woman and I couldn't rearrange my whole freaking life to save you a few minutes of Googling for the good of all mankind. So, yeah, sorry I couldn't find time to do everything for you ..Sheesh. You can be so ungrateful. 
Oh, relax, I'm just kidding. 
Well. Not about the part where I said there's no buyers guide. That's true. There is no buyers guide. ...Not yet, anyway. 
*sigh* Ok. So far, this is the worst buyers guide ever. I admit that. 
It's just that, as I was thinking about putting one together, I realized it would be a lot of work a much better, longer, more comprehensive guide if we all worked together to create it. So, basically, I'm asking you to do some of the work for a change help out, and my hope is that you'll be so excited about this little world-changing collective that you'll jump in and make our list completely amazing. 
So... I made us a board on Pinterest (All the dudes are like, "Huh?"), and I want to fill it with all of your favorite, trusted, fair trade, ethically responsible brands and retailers. 

I tried to make it so anyone could pin to it, but apparently that's not a thing, so here's how this is gonna work:
If you want to contribute to the Very Worst Buyers Guide to Ethical Shopping: 
- First, click here to find the board called "Shop."
- Then, in the comment section add a link to your favorite fair-trade, slave labor free, ethically-responsible brand or retailer, along with a short description or hashtag of their products (i.e. #menswear #jewelry #coffee #shoes #handbags #kidsclothes #babyjunk #whatevs). - Later, we'll pin your link to the "Shop." board for the benefit of everyone. 
- Last, if you're on Pinterest, follow the "Shop." board to see whenever new options for ethical purchases are added. 
- If you're not on Pinterest, make your own list (I have no idea how. A pencil and paper, maybe? I can't even remember what we did before Pinterest.) and check back often for new additions. Or just get with the program on Pinterest. 
(Psssssst. Hey. I'm looking for a couple of volunteers to help pin new links as they come in. If you're interested in being invited to add to the board, raise your hand. Leave me a comment with your email address and I'll add you. Thanks!)
We're so close, you guys. Our super extensive, kickass, humanity-loving Buyers Guide to Ethical Shopping is practically a reality. Together, we're gonna change the game of gross American consumerism! I just know it. 
Shop well, my friends, shop wisely. 
Maybe this Christmas, when we're caught up in the madness of spending, the the chaos of wrapping, the love of giving, and warmth of receiving, our boisterous declarations of Joy to the World will be meaningful and True. Maybe this year, we can celebrate the birth of a Savior knowing we've made personal choices and leveraged our resources to do bring Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, Peace and Good will toward men.
.......           ........           ........
Will you help me build a buyers guide for concious consumers? Pretty please?... 

Ethical buying? Don't worry, I can talk you out of it! (and a $50 Beautiful & Beloved giveaway)

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 19:15
I'd like to be a responsible consumer.
I really want to leverage every dollar that passes through my possession for the good of others. ...In theory. In practice, I want what I want and I want it cheap and I want it now.
Maybe that's why it's so easy for me to talk myself out of choosing costlier, time consuming, ethical purchases over grab-n-go products at rock-bottom prices. Admittedly, I can be impulsive, self-oriented, and expectant of immediate gratification, so, for me, putting in the extra effort to buy responsibly with others in mind is kind of a lot to ask. It's practically impossible.
To pacify any unrest I might experience when thoughts of ethical buying mess with my shopping mojo, I've mastered some pretty compelling arguments against shopping with a conscience. Since these well reasoned excuses have served me so well, I thought I'd share, as you may find my process beneficial next time you're perusing the aisles of your favorite store. You're welcome.
The first thing I do is tell myself that when I buy products made in foreign countries, regardless of the factory conditions, I'm supporting their economy. I'm giving all those poor people a job they wouldn't otherwise have. That $22 shirt is probably keeping like 75 women from having to work the fields around the dusty villages where their families and children are, ...I mean, everyone knows it's better to be exploited as slave-labor working in a harsh, dangerous, oppressive environment than it is to be a farmer feeding your own family. It's hot out there in the sun!
Really, what else matters?!Then, if I find something I really want, I convince myself I can't afford to buy ethical products because things made by small businesses who pay regionally fair wages to their employees are more expensive than the same exact things churned out by a bunch of 9 year olds who practically work for free, and probably love it. (Do you know what I would have given to skip school and make wallets for rich people all day when I was 9? I would have traded a pinky finger! And I've heard some of these kids do.) Anyway. To prove that I absolutely cannot afford to buy the fair trade version of the shirt I'm holding, I carefully balance my Starbucks cup across the closest rack of hangers, then I pull out my phone and use my data plan to compare prices. I don't actually recommend doing it like this, because once my coffee fell and when it hit the ground it splooshed all over the jeans I was gonna get – super embarrassing! - plus, I had to go buy another latte... But, the point is, these mid-shopping internet searches always prove me right; The fair trade version of a $22 shirt is, like, $29. Who can afford that kind of mark up? Obviously not me...

As I'm walking to the register, if I still feel angsty over my soon-to-be purchase, I remind myself I'm only one person, and it's only a couple of bucks, and in the grand scheme of Life and the Universe this ooooonnnneeelittle purchase doeasn't really matter. Then I repeat this encouraging mantra for each of the 16 items the cashier rings up for me. I shouldn't feel personally responsible for taking any part in modern day slavery for buying a single shirt. Let's be reasonable, it's only one thing. Where's the harm in that?!
Usually, that's all it takes, but every once it awhile a purchase will eat at me for a minute after I get home. At that point, I have a choice, I can either get online and learn everything I can about the company I just supported and their product sourcing, or I can look at my bank account and remind myself that I already give money to organizations that are working to end slavery, so I'm good.
Good stuff, huh. ...Oh, stop it. There's, no need to keep thanking me. I already told you, you're welcome! I'm always happy to share helpful tips with my closest friends.
If you're so inclined... like, if you really, really wanted to... you could start to make yourself a list (or a Pinterest board) of brands, companies, and organizations who believe in and exercise ethical business practices, and those supporting the work of smaller businesses who empower at-risk populations by employing and educating impoverished and/or previously enslaved people. Not sure where to start? Here's a hint to get you going: Target® - yes, the most magical store in all the land - usually scores pretty well when it comes to standards in sourcing, and ethical business partnerships. *huge collective sigh of a relief* So go ahead and put Target on your list, then, right below Target, add Beautiful & Beloved.

“Beautiful & Beloved desires to make a simplepath for you to support individuals freed from slavery who are now empowered to earn a living in a safe, clean, and just way.”
Just a taste of so many great things....
Beautiful & Beloved partners with not just ethical, but redemptive manufacturers in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Nepal, India and California to distribute hand crafted items made by survivors of human-trafficking or extreme poverty. When you buy their products, you're driving an economy, honoring a family, educating a child, and using the power of your dollar to make the world a better place. That's why I'm so excited about today's giveaway, because it comes to you straight from the dignified hands of a Beautiful and Beloved artist. Enter below to win a $50 gift certificate to Beautiful & Beloved's online boutique, and then go pick out what you'll get if you win!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy shopping, Everybody! Cheers!!!

Consumed by Thoughts of Consumerism. (and a rePURPOSE giveaway!)

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:57
Something is happening to me.
I want to say it's bad, because it feels bad a lot of the time... but I think it's actually good. Maybe even very good.
I don't know. All I know is that I used to be able to go into a store, pick out what I neededwanted, pay for it, take it home, and enjoy it without a single irritating thought about where it was made, or why it was so cheap, or who made it. Clothes and shoes and jewelry and electronics and furniture and household goodies just seemed to appear, as if by some sort of hip, trendy, mind-reading magic, in the stores I frequent. All I had to do was have an idea about what I'd like to wear to a wedding and when I showed up at H&M it would be there waiting for me. If I thought about the perfect thing to hang above the toilet in the downstairs bathroom, I could run over to Target and, not only would I find it, it would practically jump into my cart and wheel itself to the checkout.
I look just like this when I shop! No, I don't.I didn't even have to try - I could always find just what I was looking for. Sure, sometimes I wouldn't get it because I couldn't afford it, but until recently, I'd never walked away from the perfect find because I wasn't sure about the conditions of the factory it was made in, or the workers ages or wages.
I mean, I'm not a damn hippie. 
But, like I said, something's happening to me.
I think it started on the busy streets of Cambodia, when I saw a parade of trucks carrying thousands of factory workers out of the city after a long day's work. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, packed like lil' smokies onto long, diesel driven flatbeds with wood slatted sides, bandanas tied across their noses in a vain attempt to keep the billowing smog and relentless dust out of their slight bodies. It reminded me of passing a cattle truck on a California freeway, and as one truckload of people after another went by, the labels in my cheap clothes started to make me itch. I wondered if any of them recognized their handy work in the Old Navy tank top I'd thrown on that morning, or if they could see their solid stitches in my trusty Target sandals. Seeing all this, I started to feel embarrassed by my own blissful ignorance, so I did the only appropriate thing.... I slid down as far as I could in the back of the taxi and avoided all eye contact.
That was like the first time I'd come face to face with where clothes come from. 

I felt like a child learning hamburgers are made out of cows and chicken is actually chicken, and then, quite suddenly, I was faced with a moral dilemma I hadn't been prepared for. I knew my response would imply things about my character I wasn't sure I wanted to even think about, let alone address, so I did the only appropriate thing... I tried to forget about it.
I came home from SE Asia and tried with all my might to forget everything I'd seen and every stupid idea I'd ever had about my role as a consumer and my consumer responsibility to the world and all of its inhabitants. I decided to forget, because averting my attention is the grown-up version of averting my eyes; if I'm not thinking about it, it's not happening.
But it was useless.
I'd seen their faces, they'd seen mine, and for a brief moment, my comfortable retail world was invaded by the harsh reality of the people whose shoulders it rests on, people who are trucked in like cattle to make my every wish come true.
I'm telling you, the magic is gone. The fleeting tingle I used to feel when I came home with the latest, cutest, cheapest thing, has been replaced by something... significant.
I am consumed by thoughts of consumption.
“Where did this come from? How was it made? Did the person who made it get paid a fair wage? Is the person who made it a slave? Is the person who made it able to provide for her children? Wait, was this made by a child? Or, did the person who made this thing I'm about to buy arrive at the factory in the back of a truck, with wind whipped hair and a mouthful of dirt, and a dream of having her own one day but no hope of that ever happening?”
These kinds of questions haunt my every purchase. I swear, I can't buy a box of tampons without wondering if I've made an ethical choice. I recently spent like 120 hours online trying to find a backpack for my 16 year old that was both ethically made and affordable enough for a pastor's salary. And I'm really, really, really sad to say that in the end I got so frustrated I just ordered the first one he asked for and when it arrived directly from China, I did the only appropriate thing... I put it in my kid's room, closed the door, threw all the packaging in the outside recycling can (so I wouldn't have to look at it), and felt uneasy for a month. Actually, I still feel uneasy...
Don't get me wrong, I don't feel bad about buying stuff from China -- I'm all for international commerce. The truth is, that backpack may very well have been made in an upstanding factory run by a kindly, benevolent old man who loves God and people and wants to make the world a better place. Like a Chinese Jean Valjean. ...Though, it was cheaper than if I'd made a backpack myself using twine, garbage bags, and tree sap... so I doubt it.
Anyway. The point is, it's a process and I'm trying.And I can't not care about this anymore. The connection between the Western appetite for cheap goods – MY APPETITE -- and the fact that there are more slaves worldwide than ever before is too blatant. So, even though I said I'm tired of caring, which I totally am, I haven't been able to shake the idea that the way I consumeis directly related to the way the world works.
Can I just be totally honest here? (Of course I can, this is my blog.) I'm probably not gonna start making my own clothes any time soon. Or ever. And, even though our family's made a conscious decision to live pretty simply – which we mostly do – I still buy lots of stuff. I'm still a huge consumer. I still want to dress cute, I still enjoy a stylish space to live, and I haven't shunned iPhones, or Netflix, or restaurants. I'm still doing all kind of consumer type things... I'm just trying to do them more conscientiously.
WIN ALL FOUR OF THESE!!! That's the thing that's happening to me. I'm becoming a consumer with a conscience...which really sucks, but in a good way.
Not gonna lie, using your consumer power wisely is a costly endeavor. It will cost you time, it will cost you money, and it may cost you a little bit of your pride, but I'm just gonna come out and say this, you can afford itYou can afford to do the research before you buy, you can afford to pay a little more, you can afford to shave off a smidge of that fat ego in exchange for the health and wellbeing of a person on the other side of the world. Or the other side of your country. Or the other side of the street. Our consumer dollars are a powerful thing, we shouldn't waste them! 
Every day this week, I'm featuring organizations that agree with this simple concept of conscious consumerism. These companies are helping us exercise our purchase power in the name of empowerment and advancement for the poor, marginalized, at-risk, and rescued – locally and globally.
Today's giveaway is from the awesome team at rePUPOSE Accessories! I met them in N.Y. a couple of months ago, and I was blown away by their vision for creating ethical products, entirely out of used, donated, repurposed materials, to sell for the benefit of others. Please check out their website, and read their about page. And if you see something you like, grab itquick, because their pieces are unique and they sell out FAST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

With FOUR way to enter the odds are stacked in your favor! I think that's how it works. Good Luck!!! 
........          ........           ........
What are your thoughts on our crazy consumer ways? Please chime in...

Not Everyone Likes You (a word for bloggers & a guest post giveaway)

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 14:45
People always ask me for blogging advice and I have no idea why.
I know the little piece of internet I own and author is doing alright, but I'm not exactly an expert when it comes to blog stuff, or tech stuff, or writing stuff. I just sort of do whatever I want and sometimes it works out. But blogging has been good to me. It's been a creative outlet, a quiet therapist, a boisterous community, a spirited debate, a sincere friend, and a soft, snarky place to land, again and again as I've stumbled along this path of Life and Faith. So whenever someone tells me they're starting a blog it makes me kind of happy to think they may be embarking on a similar journey.
I really do wish I had some bit of great blogging advice to offer, but since my beginning in the blog world, the rules of successful blogging (if such a thing ever existed) have changed a lot, and they continue to morph at a pretty rapid rate.
Back in the day, blogs were the place where conversations happened as people commented directly to the author or to each other, responding, edifying, arguing, encouraging, and offending in long threads of dialog at the bottom of each post. These days, the majority of the conversation takes place elsewhere, mostly on Facebook, where we engage in an oddly disconnected, but highly interested, modern-day version of community. So while five years ago the intent of a blog was to draw people in, these days it's to be drawn out – to be shared. We used to want to know how to get people to come to our blog, but now we're asking how to get our blog "out there” to the people. Comment threads are no longer a good indicator of how well a particular blog post has been received, because, today, in the land of SEO and XML and LOLZ, the Share button is king.
Success for today's blogger means being posted, pinned, tumbled, stumbled, mailed, and tweeted times infinity.
Just whispering the word "viral" gives bloggers a boner. It used to be if someone told you they'd gone viral, you'd take a generous step backward, visibly shudder, and run away to wash your hands. Now we're all clamoring for the chance. We want to spread our infectious discourse all over the internet, the faster the better. When we post to our blogs, it's no longer in the hope that people will come join us in our little space, but that they'll invite us into theirs. We want readers to carry the thing we've created home with them, to their Facebook house, to share it with their friends, who will share it with their friends, who will share it with their friends. And on and on, just like the flu, until everyone's had it, some twice.

Blog postscould be called blog pathogens
This “viralability” has been a game changer, as it has moved much of the conversation instigated by blog posts away from the actual blogs. Instead of sharing their opinion with a bunch of strangers in a string of blog comments, people would rather leave their thoughts with the social media friend who infected them shared the post with them. So that's what they do. They read a post and then they go back and leave a comment about it on Facebook, or wherever. And this isgreat, because it means the post is getting “out there.”
That's what we want, right Bloggers?! Yes! At the end of the day, every blogger wants to be hunched over their laptop, hands pressed together, hissing with satisfaction, It's spreading...
But as we've moved the conversation away from the blog, and distanced ourselves from the content's creator, I think we've seen a marked change in the tone of online chatter. I still love the World Wide Web, but in a lot of ways, we've seen it twist into a disparaging, hypercritical, house of condemnation with a voracious appetite for innocent mistakes, embarrassing blunders, and anything that even remotely resembles a scandal. Without the obvious presence of the author, people tend to speak a little more assholey...*ahem*,I mean...honestly...,yeah, people speak morehonestly. We're all more apt to openly disagree with an article, generously share a different perspective, or haughtily point out an author's flawed grammar, poor syntax, and thick ankles when we think they're not listening. Far from the writer's defensive gaze, readers feel free to critique, analyze, or completely annihilate an author's body of work. Or their actual body. (...Let's be honest, people can be really mean, especially the Anonymous people of Internetland.)
If you're new to blogging, or even if you've been at it for awhile and you're trying to expand your readership, the hard part really isn't getting your stuff “out there”. Create fresh, interesting content and release it to the world via every social media hub ever invented, and it'll get out there – the hard part is being secure enough in your words and in yourself to let it be,once it is. If you want to defend or protect your work from people who don't like it, or if you feel the need to explain a post to everyone who disagrees with it, blogging will be a painful and exhausting experience for you. It just will.
Not everyone likes you, and not everyone agrees with you... and THAT'S OK!
I guess that would be my bit of advice for bloggers.You can google everything you need to know about how to grow your blog, you can read up on analytics, you can figure out how to sell ads in your sidebar all by yourself. But what you really need to know if you want your blog to do well, is this:
(you can totally write that on a chalkboard and pin it if you want to)
If you want to be a successful blogger, your stuff has to get out there, and if your stuff gets out there, you've got to understand that good and worthy conversations can and will happen without you, apart from you, away from you, and, sometimes even about you. So you better get super comfy with being misunderstood, misinterpreted, condescended, criticized, disagreed with, disliked, and just plain dissed – Sometimes right to your face ...But mostly behind your Facebook back....(faceback?)
Viruses are confident little bastards.They can go from host to host to host without even wondering if their presence had an impact or what that impact was. A virus feels no need to control the narrative of its work, it just lets it get out there, into the world, and then if or how or when it affects people is their business. This is a good model for bloggers; Do your work, then let it go. Get it out there, and then don't worry about it, don't watch it, don't wonder what it's doing. Seriously, RELAX. You're writing a blog, not curing cancer...
So just get it out there, and then, for the love of God, let it be. You can do this, because remember? Not everyone likes you. Not everyone agrees with you. And you're totally comfortable with that. 
In honor of your newfound confidence, and because every blogger is just dying to get their stuff out there, I'm giving away three... 3.... THREE!!! guest spots on my blog.  I'll pick the date, you'll pick the topic (within my discretion), and then lots and lots of people will read your words. I promise, this will be very good practice for your blogging cojones. Fun, right?! 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I am SO EXCITED about this. =)  Good luck! 

Read Between the Lines, Ma'am.

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 09:00
Today is my birthday. Again. So I'm sharing this birthday post. Again. (**age has been updated to reflect oldness**)
The years seem to be going faster, don't they?
I don't know how that works, but let me assure you; it's a thing. As you age, time passes more quickly, gravity actually gets heavier, and your bladder shrinks to the size of a peanut. Before you know it, you wake up one morning and you're thirty-effing-nine, droopy all over, and living your whole life on the brink of wetting yourself. I'm sorry. That's just how it is. There's nothing you can do about it.... unless you have lots and lots of money... Ok. So there's nothing I can do about it.
Oh! And, as if being wrinkly, damp, and nearly dead isn't insulting enough, people keep calling me “Ma'am”. 
photo cred:
 Katrina Nicole PhotographyWhat the hell, you guys?! Ma'am??? Psssshhh! How rude is that?! They might as well be calling me “you old bag".  “Thank you for shopping at Safeway, you old bag!” When the Starbucks barista says “Here you go, Ma'am”, she's lucky I don't throw my extra-hot latte right in her wrinkle-free face. I just cannot abide being told so politely that I'm old and haggard.
So I have a furrowed brow and flesh like an old paper sack. So what?! ...This face? This hot mess? This puckered mug? This is a freaking badge of honor.
My face tells the story of an incredible life. It's like a diary. Like a journal I've kept since the day I was born. My face can tell you everything about me... But you'll have to read between the lines. 

If you can read between the lines, you'll see me squinting into the sun. This is what eyes look like after they've watched a ball of fire rise over the Caribbean and set over the Pacific, burn the morning mist off the Grand Canyon and slink off to hide behind the Sierras. I've stood in the shadow of pine trees and palm trees and giant oaks, dripping with moss, while the rays of the sun etched these lines around my eyes, themselves like little sunbursts, to remind me of the places I've been. These wrinkles are a road map, plain and simple, to a world that has moved me and shaped me.
Read between the lines and you'll practically hear the sound of laughter. In the lines around my lips you'll see a gazillion words have slipped by, good ones and bad ones and all the ones in between. The upturned corners of my mouth tell their own tales, in Spanish, while whispered prayers and belted-out love songs, mercy and judgement, truth and lies, condemnation and grace, all weave into the fabric of my face. It's all there - plus a divot in my bottom lip, chewed away by years of worry. These are the deep creases and soft folds of a mouth that speaks its mind, tells stories, shares from the heart, and pouts mightily when it doesn't get its way. But around these parts, the smile line reigns supreme, laughter is king, funny trumps all – so says the valley that separates my cheek from my nose. This mouth betrays my 39 years. It looks 42. I just know it.
If you read between the lines, you'll find this heavily furrowed brow is the mark of a marriage fought and died for. It's the deepest line on my face, for good reason; To die to yourself is the hardest and greatest of life's lessons – and selfishness deserves a gravestone. I carry mine right between my eyes. It's not a wrinkle, it's a scar, a reminder of my own woundedness. And it makes me look pissed, but I'm not. When people ask me what's wrong (And they do. All the time.), I want to say, “Nothing. This is just what happens when your internal battle leaks onto your face.”
If you'll read between the lines, you'll see how these rolling waves across my forehead are the flagship of motherhood; each wavy line dug in by the surprises brought by maternity. “How did you pee that far?” “Who poured honey on the dog?” “Why is the toaster in the dryer?” I know it's not ok to scream “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!?!” twenty times a day, so my creased and wrinkled forehead says it for me. This raised eyebrow conveys a myriad of emotions, all useful in propelling boys toward manhood. I'm confident that of all the good reasons I've given them, this cocked brow will surely be the thing that sends my kids to therapy. ...Yes. It's that good.
If you read between the lines, you'll see I'm 39.
             I've spent more time on Earth than Jesus.
                                                   I guess I'm okay with that.
This shrunken face, and tiny bladder, and droopy everything are just a natural and inevitable part of life. And when I think about what it would take to make it to 39 wrinkle free, I can see that I would have forsaken all of the things that have made my life great.
So here's to another year, well lived under the sun! Here's to the trials that shuffle our brows and scrunch up our noses! Here's to the joys that get us grinning from ear to ear and laughing til our cheeks hurts! Here's to life! And here's to owning, and loving, our old and haggard faces!!!
Happy Birthday to me. I'm old-ish and I'm pretty much cool with it.
But, if you ever call me “Ma'am” again, I might offer you three fingers and ask you to read between the lines.
....     ....     .....
Spill your age. What would we see if we read between your lines tell us? 

I'm not fat. ...I'm skinny-fat.

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 09:00
Ok, so The Very Worst Dietbet starts today! (The pot has grown to over $19,000! And it's not too late to join us!!)
Gotta say,  I'm super stoked because I know I'm going to end in the cash. I just will. 
Losing weight is something I know how to do. I'm actually kind of good at it. Unfortunately, I'm also really good at gaining weight. Like, sit me down with a large pizza and a diet Coke and everybody be like “Mmm, get it girl.” when they see me pack it in! I can EAT.
Skinny-fat. It's a thing. I'm not saying I'm fat, I'm not fat. Actually, I am what they refer to in medical journals as a “skinny-fat person”.  Pretty sure that's the scientific term for someone like me, whose body appears to be normal, healthy, and average weight when it's covered by clothes but, upon further inspection, is found to be made almost entirely of lard and marshmallow. I am not kidding. Once, many moons ago, I let a personal trainer at the gym pinch me with a medieval torture device to measure my percentage of body fat. Afterward, he looked at me, utterly confused, like, “How are you even holding yourself up right now?”

So anyway. My dietbet goal (and, more importantly, the goal for my ongoing overall health and wellness) is not so much to lose weight, but to shed my fluffy outer layer of flesh, and replace it with this other thing I've heard of called muscle. I know it seems impossible but I've done it before; when I was thirty I had a six-pack, you guys. And not the beer kind. 
Actually, I was super trim when we moved to Costa Rica. Then I spent five years eating white rice, fried plantains, and Tronaditas®, while I sat on my ass watching it rain. When I moved back to the U.S. two years ago, I was twenty pounds heavier and squishy all over. Though I don't think I would have been described as fat, it was the heaviest I've ever been. When one of my boys (yes, of course it was Dylan) poked my muffin top and his finger disappeared to the first knuckle, I knew it was time to get the squish situation under control -- but in a smart, healthy, long-term, non eating disorder kind of way. That very day I made a few changes to my diet and lifestyle which made a huge different, fast. I know if I stay the course for the 28 day Dietbet challenge, I'll easily meet the 4% weightless mark. And I thought, as part of my #39things, it might be nice to share a few of the things that are helping me tighten, smooth, shrink, tone, and strengthen this hot flabby mess. 
(For the record - because you're probably wondering -  I am not a doctor, nutritionist, kinesiologist, personal trainer, life coach, Crossfit cult member, Pilates instructor, or fitness blogger. So if any of these suggestions would be bad for you to do, don't do them. Okie dokie? Cool.)
  1. Put down the doughnut and pick up a dumbbell. Cardio is awesome and we should all do cardio, but weight lifting builds muscle and muscle eats fat by raising your resting metabolism, or something like that. That way, when you're laying around power watching Netflix, your body is cranking through the calories. Seriously. ADD SOME WEIGHTS TO YOUR WORKOUT!
  1. Dump carbs like an old boyfriend who stole money from your wallet and used your car to drive to Vegas with his other girlfriend... I mean, um... Cut out carbs. If convincing yourself you're gluten intolerant helps you choose a big salad over a sub sandwich, go for it. Don't lie to your server, but ditch the bread. Inside of your body, bread turns into sugar and sugar makes fat fatter. That's no bueno. 
  1. Dress the part. Working out is hard enough without the added embarrassment of having to wear your husband's holey old gym shorts in public... or your wife's yoga pants. You don't have to spend a lot of money to grab a pair of running tights and a good fitting sports bra,  or whatever dudes wear, so treat yourself to something you're not mortified to be seen in. (I've become a big fan of Fabletics - get a whole outfit for $25! Or, for guys stuff, check out Amazon!)
  2. Equip yourself properly. You need shoes. I know good shoes can be a bit of an investment, but when a workout gets really tough, your shoes can make or break your will to live. Shop the sales if you need to, but whatever you do, get yourself a decent pair of kicks.
  3. Eat real food. Oddly, this is way harder than it sounds. But almost everything that comes in a package is filled with poison. … Ok, fine. Maybe I'm being a little bit over-dramatic... but POISON.
  4. Trick a friend into suffering with you. I am one of the biggest introverts on the planet, so when my friends first invited me to work out with them, I was like "Nope.", but eventually I relented and it's the best thing ever! I push myself a lot harder when I work out with a friend than I do alone. And we laugh a lot, which makes us forget that we want to die.
  1. Don't listen to me. Do what works for you!
And that's it. That's all I've got.
To celebrate the launch of The Very Worst Dietbet, I'm giving away a $50 Fabletics gift card. WHAT?! (I'm sorry dudes, this is a total chick raffle. But you would be a HERO if you won this for your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, auntie, neighbor, cousin, or that cutie in the corner cubical who you've never actually talked to except for in your head. Soooo....) 
Your first outfit from Fabletics is only $25!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Alright. Let's do this thing. READY?...SET?.... DIETBET!!!

A Sad Farewell to French Fries...with Cheese...and Bacon.

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 15:19
*This post is sponsored by Dietbet* and approved by, um... me.

(Because "Being Fit" is one of my #39things.)

Roo and I stood knee deep in a swimming pool deciding which parts of our bodies we would put together to build the perfect female form. This is a thing women do. Trust me. (I have two sisters and we've been verbally dissecting each other in order to Frankenstein a single spectacular body using the best of our combined parts for as long as I can remember.) These conversations are always good humored; less a declaration of self-loathing and more an acknowledgment of our bitter jealousy deep admiration for the things God did with another women's DNA. So as we stood there in our bikinis, Roo and I imagineered ourselves into a long, lean, sculpted woman, with a nice tan, perky lady business, and no body hair. Oh, and visible collar bones, because that's very important.
Then we swam over to the bar, ordered drinks, and ate a pile of fries covered in cheese and bacon.

Roo and I have spent almost two entire weeks together in the last year – I'm pretty sure I've spent more consecutive hours with her than I have with even my closest friends. Together, we've shared dozens of meals and nearly as many public restrooms. We've danced at a rave, danced at a club, danced on the street, danced in a mall, and also danced in, on, or around more than a few hotel lobbies, beaches, sidewalks, taxis, shopping malls, coffee shops, trains, elevators, passenger vans, and creepy Red Light Districts. I've seen Roo laugh and cry and twerk and barf on the side of the road... thankfully, not all on the same day. ...Actually, not all in the same country. ...Weirdly, never even in the U.S.
Yeah. I've never hung out with Roo in America.
Isn't that weird? We first met in Guatemala and then in SE Asia, but never here in the good ol' U.S. of A. (I don't even know what to say about that, except maybe, “Welcome to my life. It's always like this.”)
We live on opposite coasts, so our friendship spans the width of this great country …which we've never met in.
Ok. Anyway. What was I saying?...
...Oh, yeah, I was saying: We're not fat, but neither of us is super pleased with our bodies. (…Omg. Just go with it, ok? Writing is hard.)
But, when we were at the pool eating cheesy bacon fries, we talked about how it's possible we indulge in things like, say, cheesy bacon fries a little too often. It's possible that we sit on our butts clicking in circles on the internet working on our computers for too many hours a day, so now our muscles are made out of gravy and pizza. And, it's possible that we both need a little extra motivation to get our asses in gear, tighten everything up, exchange fat for firm, so that next time we meet in a foreign country, our imaginary Frankenbabe will be unbeatable.
That's when Roo said, “Hey! Let's host a Dietbet!”
And I was all, “I don't believe in diets.”, but she couldn't understand me because my mouth was full of cheese fries. Then she went on to explain what a Dietbet is, and I was totally on board, because I am highly motived by two things in life; vanity and money.
Just kidding. Sort of. But not really.
I mean, I am motivated by those things, but I'm also motivated by community, camaraderie, and just a smidge of competition.
So here's the Dietbet deal:
DietBet - The Most Fun You'll Ever Have Losing Weight from DietBet on Vimeo.

That's it.

You toss your 30 bucks into the pot ($30 is good, because you need to have some skin in the game!), then you've got 28 days to lose the weight (If you do the math, you'll find 4% isn't that much – totally doable if you're serious!), and in a month, you'll be X lbs lighter and X dollars richer. (For real!)
The more men and women we can tell, invite, convince, coerce, beg, trick, demand to join us, the bigger the pot. HOW COOL IS THAT?! I can get on board with exchanging my small belly for a big payout.
So we're doing it. 
We're combining my Very Worst Missionary army with Roo's SemiProper fleet to host The Very Worst Dietbet! 
I'm dead serious.
Dietbet with me! Let's see how much weight we can lose together. 
I honestly think this is gonna be awesome and I'm fully committed to taking an entire month of cheese fries with bacon to prove it! 
Our bet begins on Monday, September 15th! Here's the link to join. (Use the hashtag #theveryworstdietbet on all your sweaty pics, hangry tweets, and FB diet lamentations, so we can find you and encourage you to keep going!)


*This post is sponsored by Dietbet* and approved by, um,... me.

Burn Down Your Inbox

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 18:05

I burned down my inbox and everything it.
This ranks up there with the best decisions I've ever made. I mean, not quite as high as “keeping my baby”, but easily a notch above “canceling cable”.
The fact is, my inbox had gotten too big and it was totally unmanageable. Like when you find a baby crocodile and you bring it home to live in your bathtub, where you love it and check on it 900 times a day, but it starts to grow so fast you can't keep up with its demands and soon your thoughts are consumed by the needs of the crocodile which is now following you around your house, mouth gaping open, wanting more, more, more. Until, finally? It eats you.
My inbox was monstrous and out of control. It had to be stopped. I had to kill it, before it killed me.
It felt like I was being eaten alive by email.
Ok. Maybe I'm being a liiiiiiiiitle bit dramatic, but this has sincerely been the bane of my existence ever since the day Al Gore invented the internet. …Although, to be honest, I was thinking about it and I don't even remember setting up my first email account. It's like it has just always been there, collecting, growing, multiplying. An ever expanding to-do list with a life of its own. Then, it was like all of a sudden I had two email accounts and thousands - THOUSANDS – of unanswered messages, drumming their collective fingers on my brain.
There was stuff in my inbox from 2004, you guys. 
Here's the thing. Email was meant for people who are task oriented, organized, motivated, attentive, administrative, and mindful - so, basically, like, the opposite of me. I am sloppy, forgetful, disorganized, forgetful, inattentive, lazy, and forgetful. Expecting someone like me to manage an email account is kind of like asking a five year old to run a public library; our skills aren't up for the task. Eventually, you'd walk into the library to find a sticky little kid sitting on top of a humongous mountain of books. The mess would be unbelievable, and the time it would take to set things right would be unconscionable.
I knew it was my fault, but the sweet little Gmail account I'd brought into my home and cared for from infancy had become a monster. About a month ago, I opened my inbox, and in the dark shadow of Mount St. Email, I sighed and thought the same thing I think when my house looks and smells like an unsalvageable disaster, “At this point, it would be easier to burn it down and start over than to try to clean it up.”
That's when it hit me... Kill it with fire. Yes...
So I did, I burned the bastard to the ground.
I mean, I didn't actually set my inbox on fire because, well, that doesn’t even make any sense. Like, how would you do that? Come on. Don't be dumb. No. When I say I burned down my inbox, what I mean is I archived the whole damn thing. I emptied my inbox completely.
I declared inbox bankruptcy, and it was the best day of my life. 
I'm free.
I can breathe again.
I can open Gmail without having a mini panic attack or wanting a stiff drink.
And you can be, too, my poor email laden friend. 
Lay down your burden. Declare inbox bankruptcy. You can kill the creature that lives in your laptop, your tablet, your phone...(*whispers* It's everywhere.) ...I'm telling you, if your inbox is nipping at your heels like a hungry croc, it's time for extreme measures. It's time to burn it down. These “how to” instructions are for you. I'm handing you a match, all you have to do is strike...
(This guide is specific to Gmail clients, but I'm sure all the other email servers use a similar process. Also? Not gonna lie, it was really scary. I did a lot of research, and I read a lot of stuff about email management, I googled step by step instructions, and then I tried it with a couple of worthless test emails, just to be sure. And it worked. It's all good.)
Step 1. Take a deep breath. You can do this.
Step 2. Understand that “archive” is not the same as “delete”. This is important! When you archive your crap, it's still there, it's just not in your inbox. If you need to retrieve something, you can still find it using the search bar, or you can find everything you've ever archived by clicking on “all mail”.
Step 3. Set a reasonable time frame, and then go back through your email and reply to only what is critical within that period. I suggest going back 1 month, but not more than 3.(Don't kid yourself. If you haven't replied to an email in 3 months, YOU ARE NEVER EVER GOING TO REPLY. Remember that! You are NEVER going to respond to ANY of the thousands of emails you're hoarding in your inbox. NEVER EVER.)
Step 4. Do this stuff:

Step 5. Have a little stroke, because OMG, what have you done?!?!
Step 6. Frantically look for “all mail” and click on it. When you see that all the old crap you're never going to look at again is in there, jump up and do a happy dance. Twerk if you have to! When people look at you funny, high five them and yell, “I JUST ZEROED OUT MY INBOX!!” Everyone will understand.
Step 7. Thank me.   ....And then I'll say, "Oh that's so sweet! You don't have to thank me... But, really, you're welcome."
Step 8. Tame the monster by keeping your inbox empty. (I'm doing that. For real. I'll tell you how in another post.)

You did it. You made that inbox your bitch. 
You are free. You're really free. 
But let us never forget, friends. We must not fail to recall how quickly one little gmail account can grow wild and out of control. Respect the power of the inbox and, please, email responsibly

(#39things series)

39 things.

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 15:13
I don't know if you noticed yet, but it's September... sigh...The worst month.
This is the month that drives me to the mirror with a fresh tube of Retin A, a pair of tweezers, and a magnifying glass to search for new evidence of my inevitable death. The telltale signs increase each year; deep wrinkles, lady whiskers, grey hairs, wizard eyebrows, droopy lids. And then there are all kind of spots and blobs and blotches to remind me that I'm knock knock knockin' on heaven's door.
Every September I find my impending demise etched a little more profoundly across my face... my chest... my knees... the tops of my hands. All the old lady dead giveaways.
This morning I wrentched myself slowly out of bed and stood there, hunched over like a decrepit old woman with creaky bones and bad hips. …Ok, I actually feel pretty good. But I'm practicingfor when I don't... which will probably be tomorrow, because it's September AGAIN.
Every September, I get a year older and a year wiser and year wrinklier.
Every September, I “celebrate” having survived another 12 months.
Quick! Save her... shoes!!!Every September, I partake in the morbid annual ritual of imagining what the rest of my trek down this path of mortals will look like. In my head, it ends with my life's light snuffed out during a heroic effort to save a squirrel from a mountain lion, or something equally as noble. Like diving through a plate glass window to catch a falling cheesecake. Or jumping in front of a train to push some lady off the tracks, rescuing her really cute shoes from certain annihilation. ...What can I say? I care.... My body will then be cremated and my ashes will be given to my husband who, against my express wish not to, will have me pressed into a diamond and set in a ring for his next wife.
Or something like that.
Anyway, I'm not going there this year. It's depressing and dumb, and, really, it's just silly because I'm still really young... ish.
I do take pretty good care of myself. When I'm not eating Cheez-its and warm glazed-donut icecream sandwiches, I'm eating greek yogurt and grilled chicken and kale salad and all that healthy crap. Plus, I work out! I mean, sometimes. So, my guess is that if I take it easy, eat right, exercise, and don't try to be a hero, I could live for several more decades. Several. Like three or four, maybe even five.
That's worth celebrating, right? That's not sad at all. I'll only be 39. That's great news. *blows limp party horn* I'M ONLY HALFWAY TO DEAD, EVERYBODY!

This year, instead of pondering how and when all this fun will come to an end, I'm gonna focus on ways to make the years last... or if they're not gonna last, to at least make them good.

I'm turning 39 on September 16th, so this month I'm gonna post 39 things (ideas, habits, books, foods, favorites, secrets, links, laughs, and giveaways – a bunch of giveaways! -) that have enriched or improved my life over the last 39 years. I'm gonna share 39 things I want to carry into my next 39 years (and maybe a few thoughts about things I don't). And I'm gonna start with this:
In January, I spoke at a conference with a bunch of people I know, love, and/or admire and it was Very. Cool.
First of all, it put Sarah Bessey and me in the same room at the same time, which was a little bit of a dream come true because Sarah and I have been friends, through the magic of the internet, for what seems like forever. If you haven't read her little yellow book, Jesus Feminist, you are missing out on an incredibly meaningful and redemptive collection of words, not about a women's right to be recognized, but about how Jesus recognizes women. It's beautiful. Read it.
Second, it allowed me to cross paths with Nadia Bolz-Weber, who I'd only just heard of, but had already developed kind of a girl-crush on. The day we met, an advanced copy of her book, “Pastrix”, was sitting on my bedside table at home. I was half way through it, and already in love with Nadia's messy reflections on Faith, life, and the complicated tangle of spirits we call relationship. So, naturally, I was pretty stoked when Sarah and Nadia decided to sneak off for lunch and invited me and El Chupacabra to come along.
Nadia drove us through Denver, pointing out the actual places she talks about in her book. How fun is that? Then we ate meatballs and talked for an hour. (Now, I don't know if you'll ever get the chance to eat meatballs with Sarah Bessey and Nadia Bolz-Weber, but if you do? TAKE IT! It was one of the most encouraging conversations of my life. I swear, both of those women spoke straight to my soul. Also? The meatballs were like woah.)
Meatballs and amazing women. 
Nadia is a great, honest writer, but she's also ripped. Like, gorgeously muscle bound and strong. About writing and working out, she said something like this, “You have to commit yourself to doing it. Build the time and space into your life, and then honor that time and space by doing the work.” And then she told us how she gets up at some ridiculously early hour to work out, like, everyday or something. Her alarm goes off and she gets her butt out of bed and goes to the gym, because that is the thing which that time and space in her day is for. That's how she got ripped. And that's how she wrote her book.
That bit of advice wouldn't leave me alone.
So now I get up at the ass-crack of dawn to work out. Not every day, yet, but I'm trying to get there. For me, 6am is the time and space that I can manage to do the important work of caring for my body. So 6am it is. Book writing now, too, has a time and space in my days (a minor miracle) and some other priorities have been given times and spaces, as well. It's helped bring a little order to the chaos of my life, and I've found that I really thrive in the clarity of those predetermined hours.
Make the time. Do the work. ~ This is my new mantra. (Admittedly, that might make me sound like a smug SOB. So let me just say, it's so, so, so much harder than it seems, but totally worth the effort.)
Ok. Ready? Time to share the wealth!
Today, I'm sharing other bits of Nadia's bold, brazen, hilarious wisdom with you in the form of her book, Pastrix. I've got a copy to give away - it's now available in paperback! - and I really, really hope you win it!! (Yes, YOU! Who else could I be talking to?!?!):
a Rafflecopter giveaway
(Book only ships to U.S. residents, sorry!) There are 3 ways to enter. You've got til September 5th at 12am. Good luck! 
.......                  ...............                      .......
If you could win one book this month, which book would it be? 

Because Sharing is Caring

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 19:15
(I think this needs to be a series.) 
Internet Land will continue to rage dialog about race relations for at least another five minutes... until the Twittersphere finds a new muse. So you'll have to watch these quickly, before we become indignant about the next thing:

If Asians said the stuff white people say: 

If Latinos said the stuff white people say: 

If Black people said the things white people say: 

These last few weeks have been pretty depressing, news wise. It was starting to feel like I'd open my laptop to find the whole world on fire. Never fear, friends, Jimmy Fallon fixes everything!
I've got Good News and Good News:  

.........          .........          .........
What were your internet faves this week? Remember, sharing is caring. 

Seriously Serious. (My night undercover in the SE Asian sex-trade.)

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 13:35

Now, I know you girls like to have fun,” he said, pausing to look at each of us, “but this is serious.”
"Mike" is an undercover investigator with the kind of blue eyes that look past your dumb face and straight into your soul. He's an older guy with blondish-white hair, cut tight against his head, and a deep tan from years under a tropical sun. While he's old enough to have grandkids, there's nothing grandpa-ish about him. He has biceps the size of my head and his t-shirts appear to be stretched across the rippling pecs of a much younger man... *ahem* What!... So anyway. When he landed on the word “serious” he was looking right at me. Like, “Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, lady.”

We'd just arrived at The Exodus Road's safe house and we were about to go out with a team of undercover investigators to see what it looks like when they do field work in the more rural villages. Mike, with his intense demeanor and deep southern drawl, was gently inviting us to sit down and shut the hell up; It was time for briefing, and briefing is serious. 
We were then told, in no uncertain terms, how we were expected to conduct ourselves over the next several hours as we observed these investigators at work. We were reminded often that we would be tagging along on a real investigation to pursue a real lead on real girls who have really been trafficked into the SE Asian sex-trade. The team had gone to great lengths to ensure our safety and, more importantly, to see that the presence of four dumb bloggers wouldn't put the mission itself at risk. Then I was handed a packet marked “Strictly Confidential” in bold red letters, and it was clear play time was over.
This was serious.
Not that I didn't already know that, or feel that way. I take the issue of human trafficking very, very seriously, but, the truth is, Mike probably saw the goofy smile I couldn't manage to wipe off my face and thought I could use the reminder. I'm sure my obvious excitement and overflowing happiness seemed totally inappropriate in the context of the night's upcoming events. But simply arriving at the safe house brought me so much joy, I'm pretty sure I had a stupid-ass grin on my face - I couldn't help it!
It's because a year ago, there was no safe house. A year ago, there wasn't enough funding for vehicles, or a translator, or for gear and the other accumulated costs of field work. A year ago, there were stacks of cases that went un-investigated for lack of funds, and countless more waiting to be seen... Countless more, enslaved and waiting for a chance to go home. 

"Bud", following along on one of the bikes WE helped
 purchase for Delta Team.

***Yes. I'M STILL SMILING***Then, a year ago, 200 of us -- people from The Very Worst Missionary community -- came together to support this team of investigators and, in doing so, we became an extension of DELTA Team. When we gathered our meager resources together, we were able to make a significant contribution to Search and Rescue in SE Asia. We didn't know it a year ago, but our 35 bucks a month would be a game changer for DELTA team.
When we pulled up to the safe house, our safe house, I was overjoyed. When I saw the motorbikes we helped buy, I was amazed. When I met the translator we help pay, I couldn't not feel elated. I just felt so grateful to be standing there, seeing it all in person. 
So, yes, in the midst of all the terrible things we'd seen and hard conversations we'd had, and while we were still surrounded by pain and poverty, I was, at least in that moment, seriously happy.
But don't worry, briefing slapped the happy right out of me.
AfterMike's admonishment for us to be serious and behave, the investigators walked us through the details of the night ahead, which had been meticulously planned (and even rehearsed several times) prior to our arrival. The gravity of Search and Rescue became more and more a reality to me. The weight of going out to find kids who were being subjected to terrible abuse, in order to document their existence and gather evidence of how they've been violated, was like a swift kick in the jaw. Suddenly, I was paying attention. Suddenly, I was serious. ….and, suddenly, I was reminded of why I fell in love with the Exodus Road and Delta team in the first place. I remembered a year ago, when I learned Search and Rescue is a seriously important part of the anti-trafficking effort.
That night our job, as bloggers, was simply to sit still, stay quiet, and observe while the trained investigators did what they do. They would be collecting evidence on a couple of brothels in a rural village suspected of having several underage girls in a “restricted movement” situation. Basically, they believed these girls were possibly being held against their will and sold for sex with no obvious way out. 
I followed along in my stack of Strictly Confidential briefing papers as the lead investigator walked us through things like rendezvous points and alternate routes, maps with diagrams of who would be where and when and how they would get there, what car they would drive, what super secret spy gear they would be using. They gave us a cover story should anyone notice us and ask what we're doing. Every last detail was planned and every plan had a contingency and every contingency had a backup and every backup had a backup backup. Before we left the safe house, we all knew what every minute of the night should look like.
The team medic, “Bud”, an engaging guy with a quick wit, an easy smile, and a whole lot of experience in the medical field, spent some time talking us through worst case scenarios, in order of likelihood. He made it clear that a medical emergency was highly unlikely, but this is a standard part of preparing for a field investigation. Still, it was a little disconcerting. Bud is knowledgable and clever, which makes him easy to listen to. (Even if what you're listening to is a short tutorial on how to stop spurting blood...or a list of things you could jam inside a gushing bullet wound...or, y'know, whatever the case may be.) 
Stuff happens. You gotta be ready. Seriously.

(I can show you, but then I have to kill you.) 
During briefing the suspected trafficking victims we'd be observing from afar (beautiful, smart, overly young girls who are far from home and whose bodies are for sale) were called “targets”. And honestly? That bothered me. It was such a detached term, so unlike the normal warmth and concern I'd come to expect from the team. 
So I sat there for a minute, watching the investigators closely. My experience with them up to that point had shown them to be passionate and caring, truly invested in the humanity of the victims of trafficking and sex-slavery. Now they were stern, monotone, their faces were stony and kind of... unattached. And once again, the seriousness of this work was made abundantly clear, because, on the personal side, I could see how the investigators must create and maintain some distance. They must follow professional protocols, even when it's not easy. They must walk into situations where people are being subjected to terrible things... and then they must walk out. Their job is to walk out. They are there to collect the evidence necessary to get a trafficking case pushed through to a government agency with the power to arrest and prosecute the traffickers and to rescue not just one “target”, but all of them.
No matter how much they'd like to, they don't get to grab a girl and run, or pretend to buy her for the night and then not bring her back, or smash in the face of the creeper pawing and groping teenage girls at the next table. They can't do any of the things I want them to do. Instead, they have to maintain their cover, they have to remain objective, and they have to remember that their job is to build a case against a criminal, because, in the end, it is the penalty of law that will make human- trafficking more difficult and less lucrative for predators.
These investigators know that, ultimately, when a single “target” is rescued, she represents a long line of poor, rural village girls waiting to take her place. The perpetrators of this crime must be stopped. 
So they go in and they do their job and then they walk away. It's seriously soul crushing, every time, but these men and women know better than anyone that they aren't there to play cowboy. They aren't there to go all Chuck Norris on the place. They're not there to crack heads, no matter how great the urge... and I'm told the urge is great. What I saw during briefing wasn't callousness or a lack of concern. It was the opposite. I saw them button down their own humanity to let themselves be driven by training and experience, rather than the raw emotions that would jeopardize everything... everyone. In other words, they take their jobs veryseriously.
Contrary to pop-culture's take on human-trafficking Search and Rescue efforts (Thanks, Liam Niesen, you really did some impressive fake ass kicking in Taken!), there is no glory in this work...
Undercover investigators gather video and audio evidence, they take detailed notes, they have their completed reports translated into the local language, and then they pass them on to the police. Sometimes they're asked to assist in government led raids, but often times they don't learn what happens to the girls and boys who are rescued when a brothel they've investigated is shut down. They are already on to the next case, already undercover again, already after the next target. They are nameless and faceless, completely unknown and largely unthanked -- and that's exactly how they like it. 
They work in total anonymity and they want no credit.
Sometimes I wonder if they're aware of how beautifully they embody the qualities of Jesus. 
These men and women occupy a rare space in our world where heroism and humility meet face to face. They come from a wide variety of faith backgrounds, but the way they live out compassion and service, the way they pursue justice, the sacrifices they're willing to make for the freedom of others might be the most Christlike display of humanity I've ever seen.
That night, after briefing, I found myself crammed into the itty-bitty back of a steam-filled, blacked-out SUV, watching through binoculars as three of the undercover investigators wandered down a dirt road, in and out of a few brothels where “targets” have been identified. I looked on nervously as all kinds of prostitutes called out to them, tugged their hands, tried in vain to usher them inside a brothel for a drink, and maybe something more. The guys played their part well; just a trio of horny foreigners, looking for a good time. But they were on a mission, so we got to see how they smile and flirt and charm their way out of everything unrelated to their true purpose.
Finally they arrived at a brothel where several of the girls were suspected of being underage and/or trafficked. The three men sat outside in plastic chairs, and the girls quickly piled in around them, sitting on their laps, nuzzling in close, resting a head on his shoulder or slipping an arm around his neck. It looked a little awkward and a little intimate... Actually, come to think of it, it looked pretty much exactly how you'd expect three friends going out to buy illicit sex on a business trip would look. Of course, it was anything but. This was a fact finding mission. The guy's seemingly innocent conversation was really a calculated dialog, driving discussion with the “targets” toward topics that could reveal pertinent information about their circumstances, and, with any luck, proof of crimes being committed against them. Going over some of the video in a late night debrief. 
The girls couldn't have known it, but at that moment they were acting as their own best witnesses, they were speaking for themselves in a remarkable video that would soon be presented to a government authority with the power to shut down the brothel and arrest the brothel owner... their owner.
The girls couldn't have known it, but those three men - who would walk away without buying any of them for sex- were there, not to purchase them, not to violate them, not to pin them down, not to force them to comply... but to release them.

Those three men came for their freedom.
Those men showed up, sat down, and did their job because they believe every girl should have a shot at a future beyond a brothel. And when they stood to leave, they stood for Hope...
What they hadn't mentioned in briefing, hours earlier, was to watch for the light in the darkness. I admit, it caught me off guard. I was unprepared for what it looks like when three decent men walk straight into the shadows of the Southeast Asian sex-trade, putting themselves at risk physically and emotionally, hanging their marriages on the line, restraining a little piece of their soul so that others may live free.
They were the light in the darkness.
I saw it with my own eyes.
I watched the Light walk into a brothel. I watched the Light speak to prostitutes with tenderness. I watched the Light take a profound and loving interest in girls who'd been swallowed into the dark.
And then I remembered last year, when we began our journey with The Exodus Road, and the words that launched 200 of us into the very action that helped make that night possible...
“What if we gathered our resources to empower the rescue of trafficked and enslaved women and children? What if we supported and encouraged the men and women on the ground in just one city in SE Asia? What would happen if they had everything they needed to investigate and prosecute those who prey on the weak?…Word would get out if more bad guys went to jail, and traffickers disappeared, and brothel doors closed... What would happen if we came together from all over the world to shine a bright and focused light in the dark? ….Perhaps it would create a ripple of Hope where once there was none, as rumors of freedom spread and one child turns to comfort another, whispering with assurance, “Rescue is coming."

...and I was filled, once again, with overwhelming gratitude, because I realized I was seeing the answer to those questions made manifest. I saw the dream we had a year ago take on flesh and come to life.
I saw the light in the darkness, and I saw how, through our partnership, WE are making the serious work of Search and Rescue possible.
I saw how WE are holding open the doors of Justice.
I saw how WE are fanning the bright flames of freedom.
We, Delta Team, WE are shining the light in the darkness.
.... And that makes me seriously happy.
Mike was right, this is serious. ...And we are seriously making a difference. 
.....         ..........          .....
The investigators told me again and again about how the support of those 200 people has been a game changer for them. They've been able to cover more investigations with better equipment and to a higher degree of effectiveness with the resources that have been made available to them. I can't even tell you how many times they said to tell you all “Thank you!” (And then I kept saying, “No. Thank you!”, and they were all, “No, really, thank YOU!”, and was like, “Seriously, you guys, THANK YOU!!!”... and it was like an awkward, unending, circlejerk of gratitude.) They are so incredibly grateful for all we've given and the many ways we've supported their work this past year. These undercover investigators may remain nameless and faceless, but they'll never go unappreciated again! They wanted you to know what a huge encouragement it has been for them to feel valued and loved by so many strangers from internetland. So from them (and from me), THANK YOU!!!!
.....          .........         .....
But the work load continues to grow. 
The case files - each folder representing child abuse, sexual assault, and modern day slavery - continue to stack up. DELTA Team has had to expand and grow in an effort to keep up with the demand from partners and Government agencies for their assistance. In order to continue to do the best work possible building strong criminal cases against traffickers and pedophiles, the men and women on the ground need our help. 
So, I'm asking...
If you're not yet a supporter of DELTA Team's efforts through The Exodus Road, please consider joining us.
If you thought about supporting DELTA Team last year but for whatever reason never did,please join us now.
If you can swing $35 a month to do something significant and good in this broken world,please join us
DELTA team's monthly supporters are invited into our private Facebook group where we meet each other and share encouragement, get the inside scoop on ongoing cases and upcoming raids, and the anonymous DELTA team investigators even pop in from time to time with stories from the field. It's very cool. 
Please, please join us.
Join us as we bring our small offerings together in a big way.
Join us... as we send the Light into the darkness. 

Follow the links provided, or check out The Exodus Road at www.theexodusroad.com/donate/

After you sign up, leave a comment here letting us know! It's not bragging, it's CELEBRATING!!

A white cop, a black kid, and a crime.

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 22:18

My husband was a cop for 10 years.
I'm not making that up. Before we became missionaries, he worked for the Sac Country Sheriff's department for a decade; patrolled in a bad part of town, wore a badge over his heart, carried a gun, upheld an oath to Protect and Serve. His brothers on the force were black and white and asian and latino.
I'm telling you this because I want you to know that I totally understand the desire to defendthe officer who shot Michael Brown. I want to defend him. 
I want to raise my hand, poke out my chin, and pompously explain that even if that cop was in the wrong, there's a meaningful difference between murder and manslaughter.
Yes. He had a pornstache. I want to tell you about the quiver of fear in a cop's voice when he gets home from swing shift at 2am, hangs his duty belt over the closet door, climbs into bed with his wife and whispers, words coming out in a shudder, “I almost shot someone tonight... I thought I was going to have to shoot him...”
I want the public to understand that when an officer involved shooting occurs, it's not celebrated back at the office. The department weeps. They cry for the dead and they hurt for their partner... because, contrary to popular belief, most cops aren't anxious for a chance to fire their weapons. Most cops became cops to save lives, not take them.
I want to demand the details of the case before we call for the head of a cop who showed up to fight a crime and shot a man in the line of duty.
Oh. How I wish it were all that simple.

But it's not.It's not simple. It's not cut and dry.
It wouldn't be fair or right or good to try to explain or excuse the death of an 18 year old, the anger of a community, or the agony of his mother. Surely, they deserve better than that... And, certainly, this story is bigger than that. This is so much bigger than a white cop, a black kid, and petty crime that ended in death.
I've watched this story unfold many times over now. I've followed stories like Michael Brown's before, too many stories of unarmed black men shot dead, and the ensuing cry from the black community for justice. Every detail goes on trial in the court of Internet Opinion, which leads to no shortage of hateful, blind, ignorance spouted off in comments on news feeds and blog posts and editorials. It makes my stomach feel hollow and my heart feel shrunken. It makes my brain ache. But my pits get super sweaty when I see people who are anxious to defend the police (like me? Lord, help me.) try to blow off empirical evidence and hard statistics which show black men are at much greater risk of being shot by police, by using... well... empirical evidence and hard statistics to explain it away.
They are at greater risk of being shot because they're statistically more likely to be carrying a gun. Duh.”, they shrug.
You'd get a similar response if you were to point out that black men are more likely to end up in prison;“That's because it's been proven that black men commit more crime than white men.”
Or unemployed;“Black people have a higher rate of dependance on welfare.”.
Or dead at the hands of a member of their own community; “Gang violence is factually higher among blacks.”
And the terrible truth is, they're kind of right.
In the U.S, our black neighbors arestatistically more likely to end up economically challenged, planted in jail, or shot dead.
So at what point should we bother to stop and ask why?

Why are our black children more likely to end up dead in the street than our white children?
I'm gonna go out on a limb here, take a stab in the dark, venture a wild guess.... but I think itcould be because RACISM IS A REAL THINGand IT STILL EXISTS in our cities, schools, and communities. 
If you're not sure, pick any big city in America and ask the first person you find on the street where you can find a “white high school” and a “black high school”. I guarantee you won't need to explain the question, and you'll promptly be pointed in two different directions. You know why? Because segregation is still alive and well all over America. Our suburbs are homogenously white. Our city centers are homogenously brown. Don't tell me that racism doesn't exist today!
You can't have it both ways. You can't lean on statistics that claim black men are more likely to be under-educated, under-paid, or engaged in criminal activity (in order to prove they probably deserved to be shot), and, then, not conclude that our black baby boys are being born into some kind of serious systemic disadvantage.
Black children are born at higher risk of poverty and prison, because they are born black. That, my friends, is racism. That is a crime against humanity.
To be honest, while I believe there's no doubt the Ferguson Police department handled the aftermath of this travesty poorly, I'm not ready to condemn the individual cop who shot Micheal Brown. I can't. A cop's spouse knows too much about what happens behind the scenes when a 911 call is dispatched or a criminal suspect is encountered, and a man or woman in uniform races into action for the greater good of the people. Indeed, I actually hope a thorough investigation ends with the justification of the discharge of the cop's weapon in the course of his duty to protect and serve. If not, then we must sadly acknowledge the crime of manslaughter has been committed by a police officer and he must be held liable for his actions. I'm going to let the pieces of that puzzle fall into place without tossing my biased opinion into the ring.
But another crime has happened here, one that cannot be left unspoken.
For, no matter the exact details of this particular shooting outside of a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri, Micheal Brown's death can never be justified. Thisis why our brothers and sisters are decrying the demise of yet another black man at the hands of the police. Thisis why people across the nation are gathering to mourn and pray and protest over another life lost.
Micheal Brown was born black.
He was born black in a country that's trying really hard to pretend that racism is in the past. He was born black in a nation that has, thus far, failed to bring true equality to her people. He was born black in a place where being born black is, in a lot of ways, still akin to being born less than white.
Where is the justice in that?!
How can we justify the death of a young man whose whole life unfolded under a pretty undeniable shadow of racial bias? Is it justto debate Michael Brown's death without also discussing his disadvantage?
As people of privilege (*ahem* you know who you are), we have a responsibility to ask WHY, and then listen intently to the answer. Our neighbors in Ferguson have been standing in the street with their hands in the air, because they're trying to tell us something about the balance of power and racial inequity in the U.S! Are we willing to hear them?
Because maybe it's time to shut up and listen. 
Or maybe it's time to get up and act; to meet our friends in the street, clasp their hands, share in their tears, echo their outrage, and stand by their side until, statistically, a long and healthy future is equally as likely for every child. 
Or maybe you're a white, upper-middle class, Christian and you're still not sure where you stand on this whole issue. If that's the case, please let me leave you with this...
Jesus (who was decidedly not white or American, but, it could be argued, held a great deal of power and authority) drew a solid line – like, he literally drew a line - and then He stood on the side of the weak, the burdened, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. 
Jesus rose to his feet in the presence of injustice.
Over and over again, we see Jesus stand on the side of the disadvantaged.
...And, I don't know about you, but I think I want to stand with Jesus. 

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Where do you stand? 

Wait. Is this shit for real?

Sat, 08/09/2014 - 17:02

Sometimes when I come across "Christian" things online, I'm not sure if it was made by Christians to sell to Christians because who else would spend money on this stuff... or if it was made by non-Christians to sell to Christians because who else would spend money on this stuff?!
Like, I see this crap and I think, "The only two possibilities here are that we are being stupid, or we're being mocked for being stupid. There are no other explanations."
For example, The Brick Bible - a graphic novel depicting Bible stories out of LEGOs. It's brilliant and really well done... and I think it's obviously meant to showcase the idiocy of Christians who worship a God that (as implied by The Brick Bible) condones rape, torture, incest, genocide, and the murder of babies. But maybe I'm wrong.
Gotta admit, I was truly impressed by the artists ability to depict graphic sex scenes, bloody slaughters, and mass circumcision using only LEGO bricks. It's kind of amazing. 

Then there's this; "Christain Mingle", the movie. Which, I think is a Christian thing made for Christians. Like, I'm pretty sure it's meant to be one of those "Let's make a movie to invite our 'non-believing' friends to so they can see how fun and cool and normal it is to be a Christian!" movies. The terrifying phrase "evangelism tool" springs to mind...

But, every once in a while, I stumble across something like The Forever Bible, where I'm just not sure what's going on. It certainly feels like a mockery of dumb Christian culture and the first time I saw it, I found myself waiting for the punchline and, then, when it ended without one, I was like, "...*blink blink*...Wait. Is this shit for real?!"

I mean, 2:24 you guys?! WTF. This cannot be real.
 I just.... I don't even know...
Can anyone explain this stuff to me? 
Please try. 

Sharing is caring.

Sat, 08/02/2014 - 15:41
The other day I posted this pic on instagram of my angelic baby girl... um, I mean... my brother's baby girl taking a nap on my shoulder at Starbucks...

...and then the whole internet was like,
But then I never said where it was from - and I'm sure people thought I was trying to keep it a secret, because sometimes when a girl finds something really cool, she has good reasons for keeping it to herself. I know you know what I'm talking about, since apparently we ALL own the exact same southwest print maxi skirt from Target and it's really awkward when two (or three!) of us walk past each other wearing it on the street, or at church... or in Target. (Which has happened to me.)

^^^^Yeah. That one.

I swear, I wasn't being secretive in order to preserve and protect my spot as the only person on the planet with this kick ass headband.

I kind of love it so much.
In fact, this little headband is my new favorite way to pretend I don't have greasy summer bangs (Ha! Bite me, bobby-pins!) and the company that sells them is pretty amazing, too, so I'm actually super excited to share this find with you.
The headband is from a little New York based company called rePURPOSE that creates and sells accessories -- with God's planet and His people in mind -- by repurposing old thrift store junk into new, hip stuff. So, yes, I'm probably wearing the armpit of Uncle Joe's cast off triple X tee on my head, but I really don't care because CUTE, and also because of this (which I stole this from their about page):

rePURPOSE was started with one idea in mind - to raise money for those in need. It is based off of three major principles: to donate profits both locally and internationally, raise awareness, and to make a conscience effort to use materials that don't support slave labor. Every single aspect of this company is designed to make a difference.Materials used for rePURPOSE products are donated, purchased from thrift stores or made in the USA. This also means that every single product is one-of-a-kind!I hung out with the people behind rePURPOSE last weekend and, I'm telling you, they are legit. It's a great concept and a great business model and they're using the profits to do great things in the world and their community. Plus, part of their profits go directly to my favorite non-profit, so there's that.

I don't write commercials, you guys. rePURPOSE is not paying me to love on them in public. Over the last year, I've been actively seeking ways to make socially conscious purchases, ways to consume less, give more, and make all the ways I spend my money count toward the betterment of our world. I'm sharing (my kick ass headband and) rePURPOSE with you because if you're not already headed down this road, I think it's a good place to start.

Check out www.repurposeaccessories.com.

Happy head banding!

If Evil has a best friend, it's Apathy.

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 21:47
Since my first exposure to the reality of sex-slavery and human trafficking, I've been trying to get my head around the whole mess of it. I wanted to understand it better, so I've tried to learn as much as I could about the history and the politics that drive it. I researched and read and talked to leaders in the anti-trafficking movement. I became aware of my own role in it, as I tried to see myself clearly in this injustice, both as a contributor to the problem and as part of the solution. (Yes, I'm both.)
But it's been a year now, and I'm still pretty confused.
I've spent the last 12 months trying to get my head around the language of modern day slavery and the fact that when we are using these words - word's like sold, smuggled, traded, transported, brokered, abused, starved, beaten, broken in – we're talking about human beings. Actual human beings. The kind with names and faces and families. The kind with dreams. The kind with hearts and souls. Real live people.
I've spent a year trying to get my head around the evil of it all, trying to figure out how anyone with an ounce of decency could treat another person – especially a child- like an object or an animal, a thing to be bought or bartered, used up, and eventually discarded. I've tried to understand the mentality of the mother who willingly sells her daughter's virginity, or the father who hands his son over to a sexual predator. I've tried to learn about the minds of the men and women who are drawn to the impoverished and needy the way vultures flock to the weak and dying. I've tried to find some sort of Grace for people who profit off the bodies of the young and vulnerable.
But, I'm still confused.
Initially it was hard to even consider how these terrible things come to pass, but it's not the “evil" part that has me baffled.
After looking at the big picture, I can actually kind of understand how slavery and trafficking have become so blatant in certain parts of the world. I can see how this particular brand of evil has been able to thread its way in to the moral fabric of the culture, eating away at the family unit and devouring the value of a life. It's not that hard to wrap your brain around how a murky cocktail of war and genocide, mixed with abject poverty, infant mortality, lack of education, and ongoing political unrest has created the perfect storm for exploiting the planet's poor and marginalized. There are millions of men, women, and children in SE Asia, perfectly groomed by the precariousness of their daily lives to fulfill the perverted demands of a broken world; cheap food, cheap goods, cheap labor, cheap sex. This is the survival of the weakest.
Last month, I sat in a dimly lit, sour smelling brothel and watched a group of men grabbing and pawing and touching teenagers dressed as half-naked school girls. Some of them wore pigtails to enhance the appearance of childishness, and they all rocked back and forth, with blank faces, to no beat in particular on an up-lit stage. Just rock step, rock step, rock step, forward and back, in tiny pleated skirts and towering heals, until some guy on the outskirts of the bar would pick them by number and they would be called down to sit on his lap for a while, or maybe leave with him for the hour. I watched a timid girl, repeatedly pulling her long hair forward to cover her exposed breasts, getting pointers from one of the veterans. “Rock step, rock step, rock step. You got it.”
Anyone you know?
That would be awkward.I was supposed to be looking at the girls. I was supposed to be looking for the things The Exodus Road's undercover investigators told us they look for when they do “level one surveillance”, the little clues that can identify brothels with underage girls, and brothels who hold and sell women against their will, and brothels who traffic kids in from other countries. But I was staring at the men. I couldn't help it. In the Red Light districts of SE Asia, the brothel's guests hail from all over the world; white, black, asian, latino, American, European, African, Australian, Indian, Russian. You name it. You'll find sharply dressed business men and dirty hippies, muscle bound bros and scrawny geeks, old creepy pedophile looking dudes and young hot good looking guys - all there for the same thing.
Some of them don't even bother to take off their wedding rings.
I want to tell you that when I looked around at the faces of all those men, I saw evil. And maybe I did in some of them, but mostly I saw broken... I saw lonely... I saw addicted... I saw injured...
I saw men who believe the lie that wanting to have sex with a really young girl is normal. I saw groups of guys who believe the lie that “boys will be boys” and this is what boys do on a work trip. I saw men who could barely contain their shame, and I saw men doing shameless things. I saw them trying to drown their own brokenness in beer and bury it in boobs. I saw them pretending that paying for an intended act of love is the same as being loved. I saw the fear of rejection that lives in every man's heart made manifest. I watched it spill out and come to life in an eager willingness to degrade and abuse another human being, to devalue a soul, in exchange for a brief moment of pleasure - one minute to forget the pain of being fragile.
And maybe this sounds weird, but I can actually get my head around that. I'm not kidding. I can understand what drives it, for I, too, am broken, and I, too, am guilty of letting the shards of my shattered spirit cut their way to the surface of my life and hurt people. That kind of darkness isn't foreign to me. I mean, don't get me wrong; Sitting across from a greasy 63 year old who's groping a 17 year old who looks like a 13 year old still fills me with a special kind of rage (and it does make me wish I knew how to braid a legit, for real, Jesus-style bullwhip for some legit, for real, Jesus-style table flippin' and ass kickin'). I still believe that guy needs to be stopped. I still believe that girl deserves to be free. I still feel like the Red Light districts of SE Asia are crawling with... evil. But, what I'm saying is that I can see how we got here, to this place, where sprawling Red Light districts are plentiful, and where children's bodies are for sale, and where pimps and child molesters abound.
I guess it's just easy for me to see how a broken world full of broken people would have spots where the shattered pieces collect and congregate, surfacing like an open wound, in great need of care and healing.
I get all of that. I do. I believe that evil exists in the world (and in my own heart), so as I've spent this past year trying to learn as much as I could about all of this, it just wasn't shocking for me to consider the historical and cultural roots and the current driving forces behind modern day slavery and find the presence of “evil”. That really doesn't surprise me at all. I mean, duh.
But, you know what does surprise me? You know what I'm still super confused by?
I'm shocked by how easy it is to feel apathetic to the suffering of others. 
Sometimes it seems like we all know this atrocity exists, but we just don't actually give a shit.
That's the one part of this giant humanitarian disaster that lingers in my mind with a big fat question mark above it, like a huge neon sign, flashing “What-the-hell-is-going-on-around-here?!"
Most of us already know about human-trafficking.
A man directs a little girl to show off her flexibility...
in front of a brothel.We know that young girls are being bought, coerced, or taken from rural villages and sold into slavery.

We know that children are being raped for profit on a global scale.
We know that bad men are traveling to certain cities where it's easier to buy little boys, or virgin girls.
We know that teenagers are being smuggled from one country to the next, to be used as sex slaves.
We know... but we don't really care. Or, maybe we just don't care enough to do anything about it.
One thing I've noticed this past year, as I've tried to understand this whole issue, is that we want to be entertained by the sad stories of slavery, but we don't want to be changed by them.
We want to pretend that perspective and awareness are as valuable action and service. But they're not. 
We want to be aware... but we don't really want to be involved.
Oh, how I wish I was pointing fingers at everyone else right now! I can't even tell you how much I wish I was talking about you, and not me. But that would be totally unfair, because I am so guilty of letting apathy rule my heart. It's hard to believe I could be apathetic after I've seen trafficked girls with my own eyes, and heard their stories with my own ears. It's hard to imagine that I could let those faces, those voices, those real live people,slip from the forefront of my mind, only to be replaced by grocery lists and orthodontist appointments and the numbers on the bathroom scale. But life is weird and it doesn't always make sense, so I find myself waffling back and forth between being a passionate advocate for The ExodusRoad's anti-trafficking efforts, and being a bored, self-absorbed, suburbanite who panics if there's no greek yogurt when I get home from the gym.
After a whole year of calling attention to the fact that real people are being bought and sold like cattle, it's my own apathy that I find so confusing.
I should know better! I've seen what happens when we stand by and do nothing because we're too apathetic to be affected, and I've experienced the exact opposite - the beautiful, life-giving things that happen when we choose to act on behalf of our fellow man.
I know "evil" is kind of a scary word, but there is real evil in our world. I don't care what your faith background is, this is a pretty undeniable fact. There are truly evil things happening right now to real people – real,living, breathing, dreaming boys and girls.
But we can't fight evil with apathy.
We can't change the world with inaction. 
We can't carry slaves toward freedom unless we, ourselves, can be moved. 
I do have sad stories of slavery to share with you, but when I do, I hope you'll do more than just read. Because I'm planning to invite you to become part of the solution. I'm going to ask you to care with a passion, and offer you a chance to take action. I'm going to invite you to do something small that will empower something big in the fight against modern day slavery. 
If evil has a best friend, it's apathy. The two seem to go hand in hand. And I don't know, but I think maybe it's time for us to forcefully push apathy out of the way, so we can kick evil right in the balls. 
Are you with me? 

I'm on vacation to nowhere in particular....

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 12:15
....and the spotty wifi won't let me upload the pics I need for the posts about human trafficking and the SE Asian sex trade that I promised would go up this week.

A good blogger would have formatted them last week and scheduled them to post at a certain time on a certain day. But I am not a good blogger. I'm the kind of procrastinator who brings her computer on vacation and makes her family mad because she spends too long trying to format something that should have been done before she left. So, I'm gonna close my mac and stick it in the trunk and not think about any of this for 2 days.


I can upload pics from my phone which doesn't help me at all. But it let's me leave you with this:

The absolute WORST picture ever taken of me in my entire life... 

I don't even know.

Thinking about doing something is not the same as doing something.

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:00

So a couple of weeks ago, we had a well known humanitarian aid organization at our church. They were there to sign people up to run a half marathon with a goal of raising funds to bring clean water to people who desperately need it. I'm supportive of their efforts and their goal, and I can't tell you how much I love seeing my church family extend themselves both physically and financially for the benefit of others. It's pretty cool.  
The two women who joined us from this NGO are obnoxiously obviously passionate about their work, and they weresuper enthusiastic in their encouragement for folks to get on board. A bunch of us went to dinner with them and throughout the evening one of them kept trying to convince me that I NEEDED to run this half-marathon. Apparently, my life would not be complete if I didn't sign up and start training. I admire her passion and loved hearing her tell stories of reluctant runners who signed up and were changed by the experience.  But I am not running this race. I have no intention of signing up, and I'm not gonna pretend "I'll think about it" just to get this chick off my back.
Yes, that's how it is.I tried to let her down gently by explaining that it actually says “NEVER RUN A MARATHON” on my bucket list, but she didn't care. So then I alluded to the fact that I have a minor medical condition which keeps me from running, but she wasn't cluing in, like, at all, and since we were eating with some guys I barely knew I felt like I couldn't just blurt out, “I PEE when I RUN and I need SURGERY to fix it. But thanks for bringing it up...”, so she just kept pushing me to sign up for her cause.
Again. I actually loved this about her. Some people need a little push to do the hard things in life. Some people need some persuading. Some people need to be challenged. I get that. 
But what my marathon loving friend didn't know is that I had only been home from SE Asia for a few days. I was fighting to keep my eyes open from jet lag, I was still swollen and puffy from the 13 hour flight, and I was utterly heartbroken by my brief exposure to human-trafficking and slavery. What she couldn't know was that I was a girl with a cause of my own. So when she started to tell me about how good it feels to do something really difficult, to put yourself out their, to burden yourself for someone else, to sacrifice your time and energy on behalf of justice - as if I was just another spoiled suburbanite who'd never done anything that might break a nail - I only had one thought...
Bitch, please. You don't KNOW me.”
I sat across from her, picking at my burrito bowl and steeping in my own arrogance. I was doing self-righteous circles in my mind around the difficulty of the trip I'd just taken, how I put myself out there all the time, I have a huge burden for the victims of trafficking, and she has know idea how much time and energy I'd given up to go and hear about the work being done in SE Asia; to “tell the story”. I felt myself getting kind of pissed by the lack of recognition, by the silence of my husband, who surely should have spoken up on my behalf, like,  “Whoa now! My wife is practically a social justice HERO. Can't you see how fat her ankles are?! That repulsive bloating is from her selfless trip to rescue sex-slaves in Asia! She doesn't have to run your little race, because she's already doing her part...and also because she pees herself... but mostly because she is already putting herself out there. Did I mention she's A HERO?!
Alas. El Chupacabra was completely silent on the matter.
All I could do was sit there quietly, smiling and nodding like a smug, bloated douchebag, thinking about how awesome I am, and how she was way out of line if she thought she could guilt me into running a half-marathon for poor people with dirty water. Nope. No way. Not gonna happen, lady.
I didn't say anything though. I was content to let my pride swell in an internal dialog. But I lost my delightfully self-absorbed train of thought when I let my guard down for a second to pick cilantro out of my teeth, and that's when God slipped into the conversation in my head. 
He came at me, as He often does, with the tenderness of One who brushes my weak spots with a fingertip, gently pointing out the flaws, and speaking new Truth into my dark heart. There is no audible voice, no booming baritone, just a better understanding, a clearer line of thinking, a soft invitation to release what's broken inside of me and cling to His mercy, instead. God spoke no words to me that night, as I brooded at Chipotle, but what I got from Him in a brief moment of clarity was something like...
Baby Girl, you can hop down from that rickety, homemade pedestal, because really? You haven't done shit yet.                                                                          ~ Relax, I'm paraphrasing
And He was right. I was giving myself a pat on the back for what?! Taking a trip? Flying far away? Sweating for a few days?... I HADN'T EVEN DONE THE WORK YET. I hadn't written the words I intended to write, I hadn't told anyone the stories, I hadn't done my job – but I sure as hell wanted credit for my good intentions.
This is a common and destructive theme in my life. I forget that thinking about doing somethingis not the same as doing something.
This is why my email is overflowing. It's why my bills get paid late. It's why my friends feel neglected for lack of texts, calls, and coffee dates. This is why I don't send birthday cards to my nieces, and it plays a pretty big part in why it took me a full month to put down my thoughts about my trip to Asia (which I promise you'll find here next week).
think about doing it, and then I just... don't.
I think to myself, “I'm going reply to this email and, when I do, this is what I will say.” And somehow in my head that translates into checkmark, done.
I'm going to call my Dad. Check, done.
I'm going to see if this or that friend can have lunch next week. Check, done.
I'm going to pay my phone bill beforeI get a text saying it's overdo. Check, done.
I'm going to buy toilet paper so my kids don't have to wipe their butts with dirty socks and dry leaves. Check.
I am going to write about the incredible things I did, the beautiful people I met, and the life-giving work I saw overseas. Check. Check. Check.
Seriously. If I acted on the things I think about doing half as often as I think about doing them – or even like 1/10 of the time – I would be living a much fuller life. Not busier, but fuller, richer, deeper; My life would be a better outward reflection of my heart. If I actively lived out my intentions, my life would be a greater expression of the Faith, Hope, and Love that I intend to share with those around me.
I believe God wants me to tend more, and intend less.
I once told one of my beautiful sons, who struggles mightily with this same affliction, that he needed to ruthlessly eliminate the phrases “I'm going to” and “I was going to” from his vocabulary, and replace them with, “I am” and “I did”.
True dat, Pablo. Ha! I thought I was so clever... and then I tried it for myself. Turns out? Redirecting a soul-level character flaw is, like, really hard work, you guys. It's been so difficult for me to figure out how to turn my inner intentions into outer actions. (I mean, like, the goodintentions. This world cannot handle a physical manifestation of my bad stuff. I'll just keep those thoughts to myself. And Jesus.  Cause he can deal.) Anyway. My spiritual epiphany at Chipotle was a like fat spotlight over my lack of self-control and my abundance of self-gratification. 
I'm gross.
Now you probably think I'm gonna wrap this up by telling you I relented to that chicks appeals and signed up for the half marathon because I need to put my money where my mouth is, or something like that.
Yeeeeaaah. That's not gonna happen.
NOTrunning a marathon really is on my bucket list. And there's the pee thing. So I will not be participating except to encourage my husband and son as they torture themselves for fun for clean water. 
My point is that whether we're thinking aboutrunning a half-marathon for clean water, or we're thinking aboutwriting a blog post for abolition, or we're thinking aboutscooping mashed potatoes for the hungry, or we're thinking aboutmaking a charitable contribution, our intentions don't matter half as much as our outcomes. Thinking about doing something is not the same as doing something. We should not be satisfied by our own good intentions. 
The world needs more tending and less intending. 
In order to tend, I have to accept that I was never meant to be a cheerleader or a hero, because He put me here to be a servant and a cultivator. He put me here to do the work, to write the words, to say the things, to listen and learn, and even to obey. He put me here to be humble and bow low, to stoop down that others may rise.
He put me here to tend the Earth.
So... I am.

.....       .....       .....
Is there something you've been thinking about doing that you should actually be doing? What did He put you here to do