Jamie The Very Worst Missionary

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inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations from an American Missionary.
Updated: 5 min 1 sec ago

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. 

.....          .....         .....

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

Tired of caring.

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 20:01

“Sorry, not today.”
That's what I say to the big guy sitting in a lawn chair in front of Walmart with an American flag and a 52oz soda who is trying to get me to stop and sign something on his clipboard. He wants me to know it's very important and it will only take a minute of my time.
But I keep walking. I don't even make eye contact.
I have no idea what his cause is. I sincerely have no clue why he is sweating through his Nascar button up at 3 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon with some kind of petition in his hand. If I'm leaving Walmart, I assume it has something to do with gun-rights. Target? Voter registration. Trader Joe's? Environmental protection. Taco Bell? Legalizing weed. PetSmart? Euthanasia. Walgreens?...Euthanasia.
Anyway. I honesty don't know and I really don't care.
I've got enough crap to care about on my plate. I'm already aware of too many things to fret over and feel sad for and want to change. On the internet there's a new calamity every day. I can't open my laptop without seeing that I should be enraged about something; immigration, pollution, privilege, persecution, child abuse, animal abuse, drug abuse, wars in other countries, wars “in our own back yard”, the war against poverty, the war on crime, the war on terror. There is a war against obesity, but, also, a war against body shaming. And when there's not a war, there's a battle! Because we're battling depression, malnutrition, gentrification, slavery, racism, agism, ableism, alcoholism....astigmatism.?... Basically, like, all the isms. And all the addictions. Plus, the economy is a real pain in the ass.
Issues! There are just so many issues, and they are all so big and so important and many of them are completely legitimate.
We've all met this guy and his clipboard. That's why I feel bad when someone lunges at me with their clipboard-for-a-cause on my way out to the car, and I kind of, sort of - we're talking ever so slightly - want to take it and fling it across the parking lot like a frisbee. And ,*ahem*,I might consider stabbing them with their clicky pen, too. It's so bad, I know, because I totally get that they're sold out for their cause. I know they want to tell me about something that means something to them. I know they are, in their own way, trying to change the world for the better.
Generally, I applaud that kind of behavior. But I am just so tired of... caring.
I'm tired of caring.
My compassion plate is full. It's overflowing.
I just can't care about all of the brokenness happening around us. There's so much going on, it's overwhelming. It's confusing. It's paralyzing.
The truth is, I've grown so skeptical, so wary of scandal, so observant, and so critical that even when I do start to care about something, I hesitate to get involved. I'm afraid to say the wrong thing, to contribute to the wrong people, I worry that my money will be misappropriated, and I'm fearful of causing harm in an effort to do good. As far as I'm concerned, gone are the days of flippantly signing petitions outside of grocery stores. Sorry, pal, I like your camo hat and your fishing lure vest, but I've gotta do my homework before you get my autograph.*flings clipboard* *eyes pen*.
Caring has become exhausting. With a never ending stream of fundraisers, awareness campaigns, blogger trips, micro loans, monthly sponsorship programs, sustainable businesses, and compassionate clothing in our news feeds, it can be hard to decide where to even start. It's so much easier to just kind of ignore the issues when they aren't right in our faces and go about our daily lives, but, as a culture, we are more engaged in the activities of the world than we have ever been. We are more aware, more informed, and more interested in seeing justice and equality happen on a global scale than ever. But I fear that, as a whole, we are growing tired. I think this constant inundation of giant problems and perceived solutions is leading us into a state of compassion fatigue.
Sadly, it seems like we're becoming desensitized to the relentless, overwhelming needs of our world.
We're getting tired of caring.
….. ….. …...
The first time I met Matt Parker, CEO of The Exodus Road, I told him “I'm not a cause kind of girl.” I wanted him to understand that I would be happy to come and see what they were doing in SE Asia to end trafficking and slavery, and if it was good stuff, I'd be happy to write about it on my blog, but he should know I was not going to take up his cause. I was not going to turn into some crazy abolitionist freak who wears “rescue” t-shirts and awkwardly brings up sex-slavery in the checkout line at Whole Foods. By this time, I'd seen lots of non-profits and lots of good work, and I'd happily passed their info along, but I never felt the need to become anyone's champion and I wasn't about to start. I think I wanted him to know that I cared, but like, not that much.
I was in the throws of compassion fatigue.
From last year, Matt Parker and El Chupacabra
talking about important things that matter.
Obviously.I had only been off the mission field for a year, and I'd spent that year struggling to reconcile the ease of my life in the American suburbs with the poverty and injustice I had become familiar with overseas. So I came into meetings with non-profits, looking for partnership, with a really stupid disclaimer that was like: I'm sure your work is awesome, but your cause cannot be my cause because I don't only care about one thing... I care about a lot of things... a little.
Matt graciously accepted my douchey words of non-commitment and went about the business of teaching me everything he could about The Exodus Road coalition. Over the course of our week together, he kept emphasizing the words “core competency”. In the context of The Exodus Road, this refers to how each member/organization of the coalition specializes in just one area of work. So an aftercare facility doesn't do search and rescue, and a prevention org isn't moonlighting in rehab. Each organization is free to do what they do best – their core competency – and by doing so, they've created a network of skilled, equipped, and prepared workers in the anti-slavery movement. They each care passionately and expertly about only one aspect of the work, but they also work together, streamlining the process and sharing information, with the same end goal. Freedom.
The concept of “core competency” stuck with me.
On the long flight home, I kept thinking about how brilliant that is, and how with so many problems in the world, if we could all just care really deeply about one big thing, but partner in helpful ways with the people who care deeply about the other big things, we could make this a better place to live.
So I gave myself permission to stop caring a little bit about everything I saw and I spent some time figuring out what I felt most passionate about and how I could focus my energy into that one thing and, hopefully, use it to make a difference. I decided to be a girl with a cause.
I'm telling you all of this because.... well... I think you might be tired.
I think you might be sick and tired of hearing about sex-trafficking, or poverty, or malaria deaths, or whatever, and I want you to know that I get it. I totally get it. And I promise not to think you're a dick for wanting to roll your eyes because, OMG, another chick with a cause is mucking up your Facebook feed.
And I'm telling you all of this because... well... if you don't already have a cause, like, if you're not already participating in being the solution to just one of the world's problems, then I want to invite you to make my cause your cause.
Next week, I'm going to share stories from my latest trip, and then I'm going to tell you about ways that you can partner with The Exodus Road, and me, to focus on one cause in one place, and to change the world for the victims of sex-trafficking.
But I'm writing and posting this first, because I want to joyfully release you to love your one thing, ...even if it's not my thing.
Once I felt free to pick my one thing, the apathy I'd begun to feel for all the other things disappeared. What I found was that one cause leads to another. I have a passion for Search and Rescue, but becoming an active participant in the rescue of victims has led me to consider the next precarious steps of those who are entering freedom and how I can consciously participate in their success by using my buying power and my politics on their behalf. It's all connected. We're all connected. So do your thang to make the world better, whatever it may be.
But, seriously. DO SOMETHING.
Do your homework, sign your name, give your money, volunteer your time. Find a cause and fall in love, and give yourself away to it. Don't let compassion fatigue turn you into a Starbucks swilling zombie who only reads People.com "because everything else is just too depressing". 
Do something for someone else.
And come back next week to find out what I'm doing and how you can do it to. 
.....         .....         .....
What's your thing? Whose world are you changing? (Humble bragging is allowed for once!)

We're having a killer summer.

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 17:05

I love my kids. I really do. Like, I LOVE THEM... a lot.
But summer, you guys. Summer is killing me.
Summer is... how do I say this nicely?... Summer is putting a strain on our relationship. (That sounds better than "Summer makes me want to eat my offspring", doesn't it.) 
Don't get me wrong, I love the carefree feel of summer break. I love the days of no schedule; sleeping in, laying around, grazing all day, hanging out, going wherever whenever. I love having my boys around and spending time with them and feeding them and listening to them joke around the way brothers do.
It's all so relaxed and fun and enjoyable. For like a week. 
That's how long the “Summer is awesome!” feelings last in our house. One week. Summer would be so awesome if it was one week long! 
But it's 10 weeks long. 
Did you hear me?! I said T-E-N
That's ten whole weeks of having these two teenage boys in my house with nothing to do. They're just here; sleeping til noon, laying across the couch, eating all day, lingering at home, expecting me to drive them wherever whenever. They are always around. Everywhere I turn, I can see them. I can smell them. And they want to be fed.They are so hungry. The hungriest. However, despite their ravenous appetites, left to their own devices they will only consume food that can be pawed directly out of a bag, or eaten with a spoon. If it requires washing, cutting, mixing, cooking, or really any kind of preparation at all, then it doesn't exist to them. Like, they can't even see it.They don't see bread and ham and cheese apart from each other and think those things could become a sandwich – they actually believe that a sandwich simply appears by some sort of magic still unknown to them. I am dead serious. Wild chimpanzees have been known to do more in the way of food prep than my kids can be bothered with.
Oh, and the fighting. The “joking around”. The challenging and disagreeing and name calling. It never stops. Ever. These two can fight about anything. I mean that. If it can be spoken out loud, it can be an argument; the actual subject matter is completely irrelevant. Fact or fiction, history or contemporary, literary, science, philosophy? Doesn't matter, let's fight. I swear, I should start a twitter account called @fightsmykidshave and fill it with their ridiculousness all day long...
Seriously. No one cares. 
“Our cat doesn't have balls anymore, dumbass.”“Yes he does, they just cut the tube thingies.” “No, he doesn't. They took 'em out” #ballsornoballs?

“If the chili is too hot, milk will help. It's chemistry.”“Actually, It's physiology.” “Chemistry.”“PHYSIOLOGY, moron.”“YOU'RE SUCH AN IDIOT. IT'S CHEMISTRY.”#gotmilk

“Batman could kick Spiderman's ass.” “You're stupid. Spiderman would crush Batman.” #OMGWHOCARES?!
“The sky is blue.”“Um. Actually....”#Shootme #Please #Imbegging
Can I tell you how many times a day I have to yell, “WHY ARE YOU FIGHTING OVER THIS?! JUST GOOGLE IT AND SHUUUTT UUUPP!”
A million times a day. That is not hyperbole.

But the worst thing about summer is the invisible man who lives with us. Seriously. Some invisible douchebag moved into our house and does random things all day long just to piss me off. I know this because when I ask my boys who left the toilet seat up, they both look at me like they're astonished just by the thought of it, and say, “It wasn't me.”
If I ask whose glass is on the coffee table, they're practically offended by the question. “Well,” they both huff, “It's not mine.”
An invisible hipster is ruining my life. Who wrote 'bite me' in the steam on the bathroom mirror? Who left an apple core in the dryer? Who dropped a plastic bag full of dog poop in the recycling can? Who opened the windows with the a/c on? Who put their underwear in the freezer? Who ate an entire box of Cheez-its? Who put a laundry basket over the cat? Who farted?
The invisible man, that's who.
I'm really starting to hate that guy and we're only halfway through summer.
I mean, what am I supposed to do for five more weeks while the invisible man leaves dishes all over the house and pees all over the bathroom? How will I tolerate five more weeks of this bickering and butting of buttheads? Who can afford to feed these animals all day everyday for weeks on end. WHO INVENTED SUMMER BREAK AND WHY AREN'T THEY IN PRISON FOR THIS CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY?!?!?
Oh, relax, I'm just kidding.
Remember? At the beginning of this post I said I love my kids in all caps! (In internet language that means I am super passionate about it and it is indisputably true.)
Honestly though, I do cherish every minute of having my boys here... in my face... all the time. I know summer break is a gift. These kids won't live at home forever and someday I'll look back and wish I could spend ten weeks in a row with them again. But probably not.
So it's true we may survive the second half of summer by the skin of our teeth, but we will survive. We might even have some fun along the way. I've already got my boys cooking dinners from scratch in an effort to show them where food comes from. Plus, they finally figured out that bikes and skateboards are actual modes of transportation that can be used to take them places. Now, if they can get rid of that pesky invisible a-hole, the next few weeks are sure to be quite a bit more enjoyable for all of us. So there's hope.
We're gonna make it.
When summer break finally comes to an end, my beloved children will get back to the basics; they'll brush their teeth again, and they'll put on some shoes, and then they will triumphantly return to school -- lethargic and malnourished, dumber than ever from a summer full of video games and youtube -- but, as God is my witness, they will return.
Because I love them... and want them to live.  
....          .....          ....
How do you keep your kids alive all summer long? I'm open to suggestions. 

Taking a (photo) Dump.

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 22:03

Remember that one time in Guatemala when I posted a riveting photo essay from pics off my phone?
Well, I decided to do it again. Because everyone knows that a picture can be a powerful thing. That's why National Geographic is so popular, and also hella pricey. It's like the complete opposite of Playboy --"I only read it for the pictures." Know what I mean? *wink wink*
Anyway. The truth is, I've spent this week writing real words about important things that matter, sorting it all out in my head, fact checking, getting certain names and places right and purposefully obscuring others, carefully filtering the details in order to share what's relevant without being unnecessarily sensational, deciding on which pics are most appropriate and useful to the story.
There's so much I want to say about my trip with The Exodus Road, and I want to get it right. I want to tell you about the things we witnessed, the people we met, the good work we saw first hand, the thoughtful, longterm approach of the men and women on the ground in the fight against human trafficking. And, especially, I want to invite you to partner with this work in a significant way. I promise, all of that is coming! But, as you can imagine, it's not easy stuff to write about and I am a slow processor and a slow writer. Basically? I'm just slow. It will take me a little while to have something put together that I think is worth posting here. 
So, right now I'm taking a break from writing real words for a second to partake in one of the most powerful forms of media we have at our fingertips today; The iPhone photo dump. They used to say 'a picture is worth a thousand words', now they say 'pics or it didn't happen'. Both of those statements are really unfortunate for people like me, who's pictures only say a few words, like, "I can't tell what this is.", or "Why am I looking at this?", or simply, "Huh?"
Prepare to have your mind blown by my keen eye and skilled thumb. I give you...

A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE SOUTHEAST ASIAN SEX TRADE (but not really); A PHOTO ESSAY (but actually just an iPhone dump)...........................................................
Our journey begins with.... Well? A slice of pizza.This was the first pic in my phone. I'm not entirely sure why. It's probably because I have a real legitimate asthma inducing fear of flying and every time I board a plane I am 100% sure I'm walking down a narrow aisle to the seat of my death and pizza is my favorite food and I ate it right before I left, so I probably snapped this pic so I could die with my great love in hand. Why this is not a picture of my favorite husband and perfect children, I cannot explain. ...But, mmm, I do love me some pizza. 

Next up? Apparently, the first thing I wanted to remember from the country I lived to land in is an unreadable snapshot of a McDonald's menu taken from a bad angle. I'm beginning to sense a theme, but what can I say? I'm a real foodie.

Ok. Obviously nobody really cares that Mcdonald's has A CURRY CRAB STICKS PIE YOU GUYS !!!!! on their menu, so I turned my attention to taking pictures of more important things.Like arms and legs. But seriously, look, there's a tuk tuk, right there! Can you see it? It's kind of far off in the background. Do you see it?!?! No??? No?! You have to look PAST the arms and legs... Y'now what? Just forget it.
This is a pic of a tuk tuk. Trust me. There were things to document at every turn; beautiful architecture, smiling faces, entire families on a single scooter, shacks in front of skyscrapers, small children running, playing, having all manner of fun, bustling streets, thriving businesses, restaurants, strip malls, engrish. And there were other things, too. Darker things. Massive red-light districts with miles of glowing neon, prostitutes holding their babies on the street while they called out to potential clients, women from all over the world - stately Russians, gorgeous Ukrainians, elegant Ugandans, delicate Cambodians - all for sale, and men of every country, creed, and color who arrived in droves to buy them. It was like a photographer's dream come true.
Alas, I am not a photographer. But I did get this pic of the city...
I don't even know.
...and this pic of the country...
Unbelievable scenery. You'll just have to take my word for it. 
...and this impressive shot of the ground with some white people's feet...
...and the blurry inside of a parking garage. Wouldn't want to forget that now, would we.

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed taking in the many sights SE Asia has to offer, but my primary objective on this trip was not tourism. I went to do a job. I went to learn. I went to witness, observe, and document the many ways the Exodus Road is working in partnership with other organizations and government agencies to end slavery and trafficking for good. That included an introduction to the world of undercover investigations. 
In order for this to happen, we were briefed and debriefed and rebriefed and then we were briefed one more time about what we could say and which pictures of their work are and are not acceptable to share publicly. This was a constant dialog in our group and we chose to err on the side of caution and safety for the people who are risking life and limb for this cause. 
I did, however, manage to sneak a sweet shot of a nighttime investigation so you'd have an idea of what we were up to, then I added a filter to really help the detail pop. You're welcome. 

I also caught this bit of excitement from one of our nights out. I know! I can't believe it either, but it really happened!

This is just an awesome pic of Roo Ciambriello in the rear view mirror. *ahem* Don't mind what's happening elsewhere, just look at Roo in the mirror. *cough cough*
These are not investigators and they're not doing any work.
I can't remember, but I think this is some top secret shit that I didn't want to forget, so I snapped a pic to refer to it later. It's a good thing, too. 
I cannot read any of that. You?
In addition to the rescue side of things, we were invited to a couple of aftercare facilities to get an idea of what life looks like for girls and boys after they've been freed or escaped from an abusive environment. 
We toured the Anti Human Trafficking and Child Welfare Center for abused, exploited, and trafficked children. This is a pic of the other bloggers talking with the amazing guy who runs the place. Obviously. As you can clearly see here, they were enthralled by the stories of redemption and restoration he told us. He is honestly one of the most inspiring people I've ever met!

At this home, the children participate in skill building activities like mushroom farming. Seriously, those are mushrooms. I mean, they grow other stuff, too. But MUSHROOMS YOU GUYS!!!
I felt just like Alice in Wonderland.
Plus, they grow their own protein! I took a pic of this single egg because I was gonna say something deep and meaningful on Instagram about how one egg can mean the difference between life and death for these children. But then I remembered I'm not Sally Struthers. 

I got close and whispered, "My cat would love to meet you."
That's why it's making that face.
I really wanted a good picture of Khru Ja to share on my blog! This one didn't turn out, so I decided to take another... 

Ah, yes. Much better. 
 Naturally, we didn't spend every second of every day working. We had a cultural excursion one morning and went to see an incredible, old, intricate Buddhist temple. So glad I got this crooked, out of focus, poorly framed shot for posterity.

And, one day, en route from one location to another, I looked out the car window and THERE WAS A BABY ELEPHANT WALKING DOWN THE STREET!!!!  
I swear there is a baby elephant in this picture. LOOK HARDER!!!
Before the trip, our hosts graciously asked us if there was anything special we'd like to do or see while we were their guests. None of us had any ideas, but I jokingly responded that
 I wanted to see an elephant walking down the road like it owned the place.

And then, purely by chance, THAT. ACTUALLY. HAPPENED.

 And I have a picture of an elephant's giant ass next to a taxi to prove it.

Just driving down the road, when ELEPHANT!!!!
And then we got back to work. 
Here, we're meeting with Matt Parker at a coffee shop to talk about next steps for The Exodus Road and how we, as bloggers, can get on board and help the most. His love and passion for enslaved and trafficked men, women,  and children is palpable and his business plans are sensible. ⬅ That's the kind of non-profit I want to back!
I probably should have been at this meeting
 insted of taking pictures of it. 
For our last night there, we wanted to celebrate with something really special...So, um, yeah. We did.

This is a real place.
This big sign greeted us as we walked through the door. I'm putting it here, but in a small form because it's filled with stick figures defiling each other in a myriad of ways - all in the name of safe sex. Good on you, Cabbages and Condoms!

I guess I should not have been surprised in the least to find, once inside, a full sized version of Santa Claus... made from condoms. I knew no one would believe me, so I grabbed my camera. 

And, then, not trusting my own photographic prowess, I got a CLOSEUP.
I'm sorry. 
Condom art. It's a thing.
Then we got on a plane and flew home. The end. 

Wow. This series paints such a good overview of our time there. It was a busy, blurry, up and down, high and low, bright and dark, streaky, wonky, beautiful week. And there were condoms. 
I should probably pursue a career as a photojournalist. 
But, at least for now, I'll stick to what I know..
Like taking pictures of my cat being creepy. 
Knives really missed me.
I'm so nervous and excited to roll out my real posts about all we saw and my hopes for this community's involvement with The Exodus Road, their partners, and the future of those who long for freedom. It will take me some time, because I'm slow, but you probably already figured that out. 
Thank you for your patience and thank you for your encouragement. It has meant so much to me! In the meantime, check out Roo, Kristen, and Heather as they offer the unique perspective of their experience from their own eyes and hearts, and in their own words: 
Roo Ciambriello, semiproper.com :  Bright Lights and Brothels You can Stop Human Trafficking
Heather Armstrong, dooce.com : Meet the Exodus Road, Some Initial Thoughts from a Travel-Addled Brain Oh no, dooce found Jesus 
Kristen Howerton, rageagainsttheminivan.com : The Difference between Sex Trafficking and Sex TourismWhat I learned About Sex Trafficking from an evening with two prostitutes
I hope you enjoyed my photo essay! By my math, it's worth about 40 words. It's hard, I know, but try not to be jealous of my mad skills with an iPhone camera. 
As always, THANK YOU for following along!

A million ways to say it wrong.

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 23:41

Welp, I made it home alive.
Not that I ever doubted for a minute I would survive the trip to SE Asia. I knew I would live. 
I mean, except for the part where my calves, ankles, and feet swelled up like a couple of waterlogged loaves of Wonder Bread, and then when I accidentally ate a chili pepper that I'm 100% sure gave me a brain aneurysm, and except for the time an elephant tried to eat my entire head in one bite, and when my scooter-taxi driver departed from our group and zipped off with me alone down a dark alley in a big city, and except for being constantly on the verge of heat stroke, I felt totally safe and sound the whole time I traveled. Except for when I was flying, you know how I hate to fly. But other than that, it was a stress free trip and I was able to stay focused and attentive to the issues at hand.
Can't you see how terrified I am?In fact, we all lived. 
All four bloggers survived our week long trip to the other side of the world, where we were introduced to the seedy underworld of human trafficking, invited in to the secret work of investigations, entrusted with the words and stories of exploited men, women, and children, and encouraged by those fighting for the aftercare and oversight of the rescued. And while our brushes with certain death took different turns at times (exhaustion, a billion insect bites, gluten overdose, relentless diarrhea, severe blood loss from accidentally shaving off a billion insect bites, bloating to the point of actually bursting open and having your guts spill out on the ground), I know that our shared experiences are sure to have changed the way we each spend the rest of our lives.
We lived and we'll keep on living and our lives will continue at their usual frenetic American pace, but as we settle in to our busyness, we've gained a new purpose.
 So now comes the really hard part, the truly life and death part.

We all lived. But like *barely*.This is the part where we each stare at a blank page on a computer screen for too many hours trying to find the right words to say all the things we want to say and share the things we want to share. This is the part where we desperately try to do justice in what we write to the things we've seen and the stories we've heard, for all the hands we held, and eyes we met, and the hearts and souls we felt keenly connected to over one week across the world. This is the part that means life or death for a blogger trip, yes, but far more important, this is part that can bring new life to victims of human trafficking and sex-slavery.
Let me just say this out loud; No one wants the trip we “survived” to matter in tangible ways more than we do.
No one wants to share about the things we witnessed while preserving the privacy and dignity of the victims we saw more than we do.
No one wants to help you feel a deep connection to the good work happening in the world more than we do.
And no one is more afraid of saying it all wrong than we are. No one.
There are a million ways to say it wrong. There are a million ways to screw up something beautifully crafted by using one wrong word or adding the wrong picture. There are a million ways to be misunderstood. And there are a million ways for people to twist good words into total crap.
photo credI know this because as we made our way through a packed schedule and long days last week, posting pictures and status updates as rare snippets of wifi allowed, someone from internet land was never far behind to let us know that we were wrong, or stupid, or assholes. Or wrong-stupid-assholes.
If a picture of our group riding scooter-taxis went up, we would be accused of not caring about trafficking because we were having fun. (How dare we use public transportation!)
If a picture of the land or cityscape went up, we would receive a finger-wagging assertion of blatant “sex-tourism”. (How dare we fall in love with the beauty of the country!)
A picture of a red light district – with no distinguishable faces – would garner a complaint of “exploitation”. (How dare we share a vague picture of a world renowned tourist destination that is snapped a hundred times an hour!)
We loved the food. And that makes us
assholes who don't care about the
victims of sex-trafficking.When we shared about hiring two prostitutes for an interview, we were charged by the internet police with everything from using the wrong words (they're sex-workers, not prostitutes?) to not paying them (because we would totally rob a couple of hookers?), to using them as fodder for the masses, and probably getting them beaten up by pimps. For the record, they introduced themselves as “prostitutes”, we paid them handsomely for their time, they expressed tear-filled gratitude for listening and allowing them to tell their own story to our readers, and neither of them had a pimp, just a couple of deadbeat boyfriends – but more on all that later!
My point is, this is a highly sensitive subject and WE ALREADY KNOW THAT!
No one wants to uphold the honor of the people, the country, the investigators, the NGO's, the sex-workers, and especially the victims more that we do. No one.
But we get it. Maybe better than anyone because last week we stood awkwardly in the disparity of it all, we get that we are privileged white women, middle class bloggers, lucky, spoiled, comfortable ladies of fortune. We have easy lives and too many shoes and we practically sweat money. And we get that because of all that, some people want to be offended by our desire to help and critical of our efforts to change the world for the women and children who weren't born into privilege. But how will justice happen if the people with privilege are too ashamed by their sweet lives to leverage their privilege on behalf of the powerless?
A few months ago, my pastor, Brad Franklin, said, “Justice happens when the people with power use that power to do for those with none.”, and I just couldn't stop thinking about how I am the people with power. Since then, I've been determined to find smart, reasonable, compelling ways to engage in the global fight against poverty and slavery, and I will use everything in my power(yes, all that ugly white privilege) to do it.
So I'll be sharing more from my trip in the coming weeks, as will Heather, Roo, and Kristen. Along the way, I'll be inviting you to join me in partnering with The Exodus Road to fight human-trafficking and slavery, and, truthfully, I'm praying I don't screw this up. When I think about the stories I want to tell, my palms get sweaty, because there are a million ways to tell them wrong and I'm scared. But I'll live, I know that - It's thebringing life to otherspart I'm worried about.
I went to SE Asia for an intense week and I lived, just like I knew I would. Now I'll talk about it and no matter who I piss off in the process, I'll live. 
But will she live?Will the girl smuggled across the boarder to be sold for sex daily live? I mean, like, will she really live? Will she live a beautiful life? Will she live a life marked by love? Will she know she's valuable? Will she ever learn her real worth?
I don't know. But I know I have the power to send out the ones who can find her. I know I have the power to equip those who will do everything possible to make her free. I have the power to bid her "rescue is coming", even from my place of comfort across the sea. So I will.

I want to leverage my power for those with none, so, yes, I'll do my best to tell her story. There are a million ways to say it all wrong, but I'm going to say it anyway, because this space, this audience, this readership, and these words are the most powerful thing I've been given.
And she deserves no less...
.....        .....        .....

How can you leverage your power for those with none?

3 Tangible Ways to Stop Sex-Trafficking in the U.S.

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 18:18

As I head back to Southeast Asia to further explore the issue of global sex-trafficking and what can be done to stop it, I'm aware that this isn't just a faraway problem in a faraway land.
I've been chastised many times for engaging in the problem of sex-trafficking overseas when it's a problem “right here, in our own back yard”. (Why, yes, I do say that with a deep, redneck drawl and a camo shirt that says, 'Merica!') And they're right. If we are serious about stopping this atrocity, it should be stopped everywhere. So, since I fly away on Monday morning and have about 600 things to get done beforehand, and none of those things is “write a blog post”, here I am, with a blog post about 3 ways to help put an end to sex-trafficking in the good ol' U.S. of A.

Procrastination, for the win. Yeeeeah. 
….          …..          ….
1. Know what you're talking about..No, but like, really get your head around it.
Sex-trafficking is a reality in the U.S., that is a fact, but it's often misunderstood or misrepresented. If you want to have a role in ending it, you need to do your homework. You can't know what your talking about unless you do some research, so do that. Do some research.
But if I may offer a few suggestions? Ignore the crazy statistics. Ignore the dramatic stories about how every year the Super Bowl transforms a city into the biggest sex-trafficking hub that's ever happened anywhere in the entire universe. Ignore the endless lists of which city is “The #1 sex-trafficking city in America”. I've found that statistics are tricky little bastards. They're easily manipulated. They lie. So instead of filling your head with a bunch of internet facts and figures that may or may not mean anything, find out what sex-trafficking actually looks like in your town. Call the police station and ask if they have an anti sex-trafficking unit and, if so, see if someone from the unit will talk to you about it. If sex-trafficking is a problem in your area, learn who's at risk to be trafficked and who's doing the trafficking, and learn about who is driving the demand. Research non-profits near you who are working in this field; pull their tax info, review their track record, compare their claims against what you've learned from the police, and if you like what you see, give them your time and money.
Be informed about the place you live, and then get involved accordingly.

2. Become a foster parent.
I know, I know. You're like, "Um. Easier said than done!" But when you do your research, you will probably learn that kids in the foster care system are incredibly susceptible to predatory adults.
We love to eat up stories about pretty little blond girls being lured away from their suburban youth group by a cute boy who gets her high and sells her to his greasy uncle for forty bucks and a pack of cigarettes forcing her into a life of drugs and prostitution. While this has actually happened to some degree, it's very rare. Like, super rare. But the girls and boys in our foster care system, kids who often feel unlovable, unsupported, and disconnected, are a bluzillion times more likely to be drawn into a life of forced prostitution than a white kid in the suburbs. Yes. A BLUZILLION. …. Ok. Fine. I made that number up. (See what I mean about bad statistics?) But the part about foster kids being at higher risk of being trafficked is totes true. They're transient, they're scared, and they're undervalued as human beings, so they often run away and fall into the hands of the wrong people.
What we need are more healthy, stable, mercy-filled foster families to show these beautiful, broken kids their worth. Yes, it is the hardest thing you will ever do, but your love and your home could be the lifeline that keeps an at-risk child from being sold, used, and terribly violated. Consider becoming a foster parent.

3. Stop soliciting prostitutes.
Ok. This one seems kind of like, “duh", right? But nobody wants to talk about it!
Nobody wants to think about WHO is paying for the sex that drives trafficking right here in our own back yard. Nobody wants to admit that we probably all know people, primarily men, who solicit prostitutes. They work in our offices, they coach our kids, they sit in our churches (hell, they lead our churches.), they live in our homes. Sometimes, they share our beds. Sometimes, they marry our daughters. Sometimes, they appear in our mirrors. Don't believe me? Well, I think you'd be surprised. Regardless, the issue of supply and demand cannot be ignored. Trafficking exists and is quite lucrative in the U.S. because SO. MANY. PEOPLE are paying for sex! I know that most of those patrons never consider the service they're buying may be coming from someone who was enslaved and/or trafficked, but they need to start. The only way to be 100% certain you aren't complicit in contributing to sex-trafficking and slavery is to avoid soliciting a prostitute.
In all fairness, it must be noted that not every man and woman working in the American sex industry is doing so under duress. Many bright, drug free, totally sane people enter the business legally and of their own volition, and they are just as appalled as you and me by the thought of someone being forced into it in any way, shape, or form. So – I'm not a proponent of sex for sale, like, not at all – but if you aregoing to engage in sex for cash? For shits sake, do it with a conscience. Do your diligence to ensure that you're buying a free and willing partner (that means he or she must be above the age of consentand able to walk away at any time, if they so choose.), and if you can't be sure? Don't do it.
That said, I know there are some people who will read this who don't want to do it,but will do it anyway. They are addicts, and they need our help.
We can't go on pretending the addiction which drives so much of the porn and sex industry is not also a major factor in the business of sex-trafficking. There are so many people around us who are utterly destroyed by sex-addiction, engulfed in hopelessness, yet, we sit silent. We are too embarrassed to bring it up, too ashamed to talk about it, too stigmatized to reach out to each other, so we suffocate in our secrets because the risk is too great, the consequences are too dire, and the Church is too damn quiet about it all. That's just not right, and I'm sorry.
My friend, if you're a sex-addict, I pray you will seek help. Today. Right now. I pray your confession will be met by Grace. I pray you will find Peace and know Love. I pray you will experience Redemption. I pray you'll find that from the God who is perfected in our weakness, we gain strength. And I pray you will never hire a prostitute again.
You are not alone. 
The sex-slave and the addict need the same thing... Freedom. And the world will be a better place when we can say to them, both, “Rescue is coming.
…         …..          …
Please add to this list! Surely there are more than 3 things...

Oh, And if you have found valuable resources for people trying to get free from sex-addiction, please link them in comments. Thanks!

20 years.

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 18:16
We just celebrated 20 years of marriage. For real. It's a miracle.
The miracle, though, is not that our marriage survived the last 20 years, it's that it survived the first one. Whew, that year was a doozie. We were young and poor and stupid and selfish; learning to be adults, and partners, and parents all at once. It was the perfect storm.
One day, right after our first anniversary, we had a massive fight. Like, a HUGE fight. It was the kind where you're screaming and yelling at each other, hissing the word “divorce” like you just pulled the pin out of a grenade with your teeth. ~ Boom! It's over. We're through. ~ But that night we were supposed to go to a party for my work, a Hawaiian luau, and we had a babysitter coming over and everything, people were expecting us, we'd already paid for tickets. So we resigned ourselves to get through it, to bear each other's company for one last evening. We could eat, drink, and pretend to be merry one... last... time. It would be a long night, we knew, but we thought it would be a good way to cool our tempers. When we got home we would be able to discuss the details of screwing each other over our impending separation with clear heads and calm voices.
We drove to the party in Hawaiian themed clothes and stone cold silence. We sat amongst friends and laughed and talked, but not to each other.
Then, like every proper Luau, there was a hula-hoop competition, and when they announced it our eyes met, we gazed at each other across the roasted pig's head, and it was clear we were thinking the same thing. “We own this!” Without a plan, without even a word, he took my hand and we marched onto the stage. In one fluid motion, I snatched a hula hoop from the emcee and he swung me up to perch on his massive shoulders. I straddled his neck and flung the hoop around my own, twisting it in sweeping circles, and he stood up tall with his arms wide open, we were like a totem-pole made of white people, nodding to the crowd, “YES. WE REALLY ARE THIS AMAZING.”
You cannot make this shit up.Needless to say, we won.
That night we won it all. I mean, obviously, we won the respect and admiration of onlookers and we won the Grand Prize (a blue, plastic pitcher with a tray and four tumblers), but, more importantly, we won back our young marriage. Because if you can win a hula-hoop competition together when you hate each other's guts? You can do ANYTHING.
That's the night we realized we would grow old side by side, and probably die holding hands on the same day.
I feel like I should say something super encouraging now, like, “After twenty years, every single day is as thrilling as winning a hula-hoop competition!” But that would be a lie from the devil. Twenty years later, we still fight dirty, we're still kind of stupid and selfish, and we have somehow managed to regress back to being poor. But I will say this; After twenty years, we understand we're just better together.
I suppose that's what we learned that fateful night, when we dominated the hula-hoop competition. We can do things together that neither of us could or would ever dream of doing alone – not just alone, but specifically without the other. I would not be who I am without this specific man holding me up, and he could not be who he is without me, and only me, perched on his shoulders. After 20 years, we know that when we each do our part for our partner, we both win.
Beyond the glory of the hula-hoop, we now share a twenty year history of life well-lived, wars waged, battles fought, hard won victories. Our marriage is wrapped in memories that tell us, Yes, together we are this amazing, and every year our anniversary comes around again, to remind us we have a whole lot of amazingness to celebrate.
I read Gone Girl like a month ago, and it made me wish I'd forced El Chupacabra on a clever scavenger hunt which simultaneously revealed how well he actually knows me and culminated in an awesome gift that was perfectly representative of twenty years of marriage. But Google told me twenty years is the “china” anniversary and that's just dumb. So, since we have no need for the dishes kind of china and we can't afford to go to the actual kind of China, we settled on spending our anniversary night at the adorable B&B where we spent our wedding night. Cute!
And for El Chupacabra? A watch. But not just any watch. A kick-ass wooden watch from JORD. (Seriously. Have you seen these watches? They're incredibly cool! And I gotta say, since it's only been twenty years, apparently I forgot I married a man with wrists like a wooly mammoth, so the watch didn't fit – duh! - and I was super bummed, and my husband was like, “I'm sure they can just send more links.”, and I was like, “NO! IT'S A WOOD WATCH. IT'S FANCY!! YOU CAN'T JUST ADD MORE LINKS WHENEVER YOU WANT!” So I emailed the company and asked if it's possible to add links because I knew it wasn't and I wanted to prove I was right, and they were all, “Sure. No problem. How many links do you need?”... So, um, yeah. JORD makes awesome watches, and has great customer service. Highly recommend!) 
You'd think I'd know by now that he's a huge person. Overall, our anniversary was a lovely, romantic evening. For dinner we had chili-cheese onion rings and beer, and for dessert we had indigestion. We caught the show "A Steady Rain" at a local theatre where we were so much younger than the average patron, they probably all scoffed out our meager 20 years of marriage like we were still in diapers. (Actually, I'd be willing to wager that more than few of them were in diapers.) Anyway. It was a fun night out.
We talked about how we're both pretty excited to see what the next 20 years has to throw at us - I mean, bring it on. We already won the hula-hoop competition. So, basically? We've already won at life.
Happy 20thAnniversary, El Chupacabra!!I would make a hula-hoop totem pole with you any day!