Jamie The Very Worst Missionary

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Inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations from a Christian missionary.
Updated: 3 min 21 sec ago

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. 
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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! 

Blogger Trips Make (Dollars &) Sense.

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 18:14
It seems like there have been a bunch of those “blogger trips” announced recently. There's practically another big trip packed with “famous” *eye roll* bloggers heading to a different third world country every other week. Maybe you've also noticed that these trips are starting to get a fair amount of pushback. 
The idea of comfortable American writers zipping off to distant parts of the world in the name of storytelling is starting to raise some hackles. I get that. I totally do. The first time I was approached to participate in a “blogger trip” to fly to a another country in order to see their work and write about it, I was like, “Nope.”
I had seen too much garbage in the NGO world and I had spoken out loudly against it. I was leery of spending that kind of cash on airfare for a blogger when I know very well what a dollar can do in the hands of the impoverished. I was openly skeptical of “work” being done by rich americans in developing nations, and I was angry over the suburban-hero complex we see pouring out of the U.S. year after year. Not to mention, appalled, grossed out, and sort of enraged by the billions of dollars spent on trips that often result in no more than a costly ego boost for well-meaning tourists, taken at the emotional expense of the poor.
If I'm being really, really honest? I was kind of worried about what you would think.
Since I have vocally opposed aspects of short-term missions trips and shoddy humanitarian aid, it could easily come off as contradictory for me to then hop on a plane and fly across the world in partnership with a non-profit I knew little about. The word “hypocrite” came to mind, so it was pretty easy for me to decline the first invite. I said no because I was genuinely afraid of becoming a participant in wasteful self-congratulation disguised as “blessing” and “caring for those less fortunate”....Ew. No, thank you, I'll stay home.
But, as much as I have spoken into how we're doing it wrong (and I do think we're doing, like, omgso much of it wrong), I've never stopped believing that there are better ways to engage the world, and that, yes, those of us who hold power and wealth have a responsibility to those who hold neither. Because of that, over the last couple of years I've taken an interest in finding and partnering with organizations I believe are doing meaningful work with transparency, intelligence, and financial accountability.
So when the official invite came, instead of blowing it off, I did some homework. I vetted the organization, asked questions, researched the issues, and took a long hard look at the expense of my trip versus the expectation of my role. Why was I going and what would it accomplish? After having seen all kinds of missionaries and NGO's at work with my own skeptical judgey eyeballs, I've become a huge proponent of ditching the volunteer model, in favor of choosing the people we send into the world with reason and forethought. That said, I had to ask my own cringey self if I actually had a particular set of skills that would prove beneficial to the organization I was joining hands with and the people they serve.
If I flew halfway across the planet, would a cost-benefit analysis have a favorable outcome for the Exodus Road? I decided, in the end, that I would go only as a storyteller and I would go only if telling the story would have real, tangible value.
I would not go as missionary, I would not call it a missions trip, and I would not pretend I was doing something I wasn't actually doing...like, say, helping. Or blessing. Or “loving on people”.(Ugh. I hate that phrase. Can we please stop saying it?) I would go, I would listen, I would learn, and then? As asked, I would tell the story to the best of my ability to anyone who would read it.
In other words, I would market.
See, one of the things I learned through the vetting process is that most non-profits run off of donations and grants, and then I learned that the terms of a grant can be crazy specific, and then I learned that grant money can only be spent on the crazy specific stuff it was intended to be spent on. So when an NGO gets a grant for marketing, it has to be spent on marketing. Only marketing. Nothing else. Also? Budgetary audits keep them beholden to the bottom line; marketing money must go to marketing. That's just how it works.
Using a blogger with a wide audience for the purpose of sharing your work and marketing your brand is a pretty brilliant use of those earmarked dollars. I mean, B-rilliant. 
Blogger trips just make good business sense; It's a bang for your buck marketing strategy that has no rival. To use marketing dollars on roundtrip airfare for a blogger who will then share their experience with readers they've already built a relationship with, people with whom they already share a sort of kinship and like-mindedness is simply a smart, creative use of funds. I don't know about you, but I want to support organizations who make good choices, who leverage every dollar, who choose low overhead and minimal cost marketing over glossy mass mailings and commercial advertisement, and that's exactly what blogger trips aim to do.
Case in point? I finally accepted their invitation last year and traveled to SE Asia with The Exodus Road. I came home and told the story, and in turn, through your generosity, raised many, many, many times the cost of my trip. The funds that came in – and are still coming in – from that trip have been crucial to the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of traffickers and abusers, and to the rescue of trafficking victims. (Aw, yeah! Go DELTA team!)
As tempting as it is to shrug off these trips as a bunch of pampered suburbanites traipsing the planet on somebody else's dime, they've become a hugely successful means of market distribution for NGO's, some of which are doing amazing, life-giving work in the world. The results speak volumes; Blogger trips make dollars, and that makes sense.
With so much waste, so much manipulation, so much crap coming out of the non-profit world, we need to get behind orgs with smart business tactics. We need to be supportive of good strategy. We need to encourage wise choices. We need to understand that even amazing, healthy, productive organizations cannot keep going without financial support, and, for that reason, we need to see how blogger trips are, quite simply, a wise investment. 
I'll continue to stand behind them... Um. And go on them. *ahem* 
........         ........         ........
Yes. I agree that there are still a lot of questions and concernes to be asked and answered about this kind of work. We need to see some honest, ongoing discussion surrounding ethical storytelling. We need to talk about how to care for the privacy and dignity of marginalized and/or victimized people in the midst of shedding light on the reality of their lives. We need to gently challenge each other when we see things from these blogger trips that make us feel...I don't know... oogy. (I've been called out, myself, and I'm grateful for the input.)
Essentially, as storytellers working on behalf of non-profits, we need your patience and we need your help as we learn to do it better. We don't always hit the mark, but I believe every one of us desires to share our stories with wisdom, care, and integrity, and to make them matter to the organizations we're serving with them.

Not All Pastor's Kids Are Christian. Sorry.

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 20:04

It's been almost two years since we returned to the U.S, which is crazy because it feels like we were in Costa Rica yesterday (but like, if yesterday was also a million years ago). I can't believe it has been that long since we embarked on this latest segment of our journey, two years since El Chupacabra took on a new role and a new title and found himself in new place in the (weird, gross, false) hierarchy of the Church.
For two years he has been a “Pastor”. Well, his actual job title is “Director” but he's sort of known around these parts as the “pastor of outreach and missions”, so for all intents and purposes he is a pastor. Which, of course, makes me a pastor's wife (hilarious, I know!) and bestows upon our darling angelic children, who are also giant hairy men, the not so coveted position of Pastor's Kids. *sad trombone* Thankfully, this was not a huge shock to their system since they'd already been thrown into the fire as later-in-life Missionary Kids. They had a pretty good idea of what awaited them.
But there was one teeny tiny itty bitty awkward problem.
See. Not all of our kids identify themselves as Christian. They're not walkin' with the Lord, as we say it... y'know... In the business.
We have one kid who will stand in front of a crowd with a mic and a guitar and sing songs of worship and thanksgiving to the God he loves. And we have another who strongly questions the existence of that very same God. He's a pastor's kid who uses foul language, like doubtful and agnostic, and sometimes even claims the scarlet letter, yes, the BIG 'A'... (I'll give you a second to clutch your pearls...) 
GASP!!! What's a pastor to do?!
I don't really know, but I'll tell you what we did...
Before my husband started his job at the church, we sat down with all of our boys and had an honest conversation about our expectations of each of them as Pastor's Kids. We laid out the ground rules clearly. We told them exactly what we wanted to see from them and precisely how they were expected to behave, because we could not abide the embarrassment and disappointment of being “those parents”. You know who I'm talking about, the ones who raise kids who are afraid to just be themselves.
So first we told them to be honest, to tell the truth about who they are and where they're at with the whole God thing, always, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Even at youth group? Yup. Even on Easter? Yup. Even in front of church leaders? Yup. Even with creepy pastor groupies?...Especially then, son, especially then. This doesn't mean they go around throwing out personal information at inappropriate times, just that they have permission to speak freely when it's called for.
Then we told them to be open, to stay receptive to new ideas, and old ones, always, even if it makes them uncomfortable. This advice was not directed at any one child, but to all three, faithful or doubting, because it is too damn easy for us to settle on false ideas and call them Truth, even -and maybe especially - Biblical Truth. What's that one saying? “Don't believe everything you think.” ...Yeah, that. We could probably all benefit by practicing a little bit more of that kind of cognitive humility.
Last, we reminded them to honor their parents. And they do. They honor us with their challenging questions and their smart observations. They honor us by listening when we do our best to answer, and by understanding when we have no answers at all. They honor us by punctuating conversations that end in disagreement with respect and love, and they honor us by showing their character of deep conviction and brave stance. My doubter is remarkably full of grace for his parents who love Jesus, but so often fail to reflect His teaching at home, and we are honored to receive it.
We are so incredibly proud of the bright, thoughtful, courageous heathens we're raising. And while, as Christian parents, we cling to certain hopes and dreams for our children's faith and future, we trust that the God we believe in is near to them, fully present, and doing His thing. El Chupacabra and I are honestly very cool with the whole situation.
Some people want to be shocked and appalled by our utter lack of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. They think our kids need a good old-fashioned Bible thumping, and that we are driving them straight to the gates of hell with our nonchalance and free-wheelin' lifestyle. ...Meh. We're cool with that, too. You go ahead and be scandalized over something that is none of your damn business. We'll just be over here, loving our kids. 
We've noticed several times over our whole two years in the pastor gig that there's sort of an assumption that all Pastors Kids are Christian. Almost as if Faith were a genetically inherited trait, handed down from parent to child though tiny strands of DNA, like webbed fingers and detached earlobes, or that flippy thing some people can do with their tongue. Hell, maybe it is! But if that's the case, then Doubt must also be an inherent part of some of us, having been passed down on a cellular level. I could actually get behind that theory. The truth is, one of my sons was born trusting and gentle, welcoming anyone and everyone into his little heart, and he has believed in Jesus since he was, like, four or something ridiculous. The other was born a hard-shelled skeptic, taking in every detail of his environment before casting judgement or letting anyone in, and he has questioned the Jesus narrative since forever, even as a very, very small child.
My boys!! ...We're a blended family.
 But, like, on the inside. I don't know what causes one person to doubt while another believes. I certainly have some ideas as to how each of my kids have come to the conclusions about God they currently hold (I would have to take some of the blame). When I try to look at life from their unique perspective, I can see pretty easily how they've ended up where they have. These guys have had a lot to sift through, as we've moved them out of the country and back again, and they've each found different ways to cope and to thrive. If they haven't yet finished the task of figuring out who God is in relation to themselves, that's ok. They are allowed their process.
In the end, I want my kids to find their own faith, not inherit mine by default. (Anyway, mine is pretty janky. Surely, they can do better.
Let's be real though, I have no idea if we're doing the right thing. My younger boys are teenagers living at home, and the oldest is just about to blow this joint, so the jury's still out. But I do hope that by regarding our children's individuality and by allowing and engaging with them in the right-of-passage wrestling of souls, we are managing our family in a manner worthy of respect.
Believing in Jesus? Receiving His redemption? These are not commands to be given by a father and obeyed by a child. They are a loving invitation from God to his people, every last one of His people, and He is patiently awaiting their reply...
Pastor's kids are people, too. 

But sometimes they're not Christian people. 
.....       .....       .....
Christian parents: Are your kids "walking' with the Lord?"Kids of Christian parents: ... Um... Sorry. We really are doing our stupid best. 

Life is weird and it doesn't make sense.

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 19:27
My life is getting kind of weird.
That is not a complaint! I think weird is good. I'm a fan of weird. In fact, I'm really grateful for this weird-good life and I would never want anyone to think I'm unhappy with the path I've landed on. I am definitely not complaining (TOTALLY NOT COMPLAINING, GOD!), but there are things that trouble me. There are areas of life I'm having a hard time getting my head around. I'm struggling to reconcile certain aspects of my existence which seem blatantly opposed to each other. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to bring these parts of who I am and what I do together in a way that makes sense, but I can't stop thinking about it. I just. I don't even know. 
So here are some things...
Last year, I got to travel to all over the place in the name of Justice. Seriously. I was invited all over the world to speak about it, write about it, fight for it, and invest in it. I did my best to see clearly, discern carefully, and, with as much reverence and respect as possible for the victims of injustice, I became a firsthand witness to some of the atrocities that are occurring in our world. Everywhere I went, I did my best to advocate on behalf of the victimized and vulnerable men, women, and children I've crossed paths with. My great hope is that every trip I go on will actually matter, that it will really, truly help the people they claim to help... I want to have a stake in making the world a better, safer, freer place for everyone.
Last month, I was in LA on the set of a super cool movie, meeting actors and reading scripts, and eating an incredible meal that seemed to just appear in the desert, as if out of nowhere. The meal brought a foreign chef with a real accent, wearing one of those chef jackets that doubles as Kung-fu attire (super handy for when you're making gazpacho and suddenly find yourself in a Fists of Fury type situation). I was honestly moved by the story the film crew was building, and I felt honored to be present for a small part of that process. I've never been a cheerleader for faith-based films because of their history of sucking ass, but I really do believe this particular film could be a catalyst for good, hard conversations that challenge our theology and stretch our picture of God.
Two weeks ago, I went to Colorado where I was honored to play emcee at a fancy fundraiser for a coalition ofnon-profit organizations entrenched in the battle against slavery and human-trafficking. I wore a pair of wicked heels for like 7 hours straight because I believe in making sacrifices for others, and everybody knows it's not a sacrifice unless it hurts. *eye roll* The team effort was tremendous and, thankfully, the dinner was a smashing success! I can't wait to see how it pays off in big ways to help empower rescue and restore lives over the coming year.
Last week, I scored tickets to a screening of The Amazing Spiderman 2 because I'm a baller a blogger. I walked my super amped nerd-kids past a snaking line of Spider Man enthusiasts, Marvel geeks with neck-beards, a couple of furries, and several dudes with ponytails, to tell a guy at the door,“I'm on the list.” When he escorted us right in, my boys looked at me with a kind of awe and reverence I've always demanded from them, but never received. Finally! Their smiles said, “It is my greatest privilege to be this woman's child!” We were directed to sit in the rows saved for special people, like Kings and Queens and DJ's, and Movie Reviewers, and Presidents. I sat there in the chilly theater with popcorn and peanut m&m's in my lap, watching a movie I loved with people I love, and I felt deeply satisfied. It made me happy to see them happy. But the best part was to see two of my boys – the two who wrestle with ideas about God and faith and their own worth – feeling loved and favored, and seeing themselves as special and set-apart, but still part of something much bigger. (What can I say? I love a good metaphor.)
Right now? I'm sitting in bed, still in my pajamas, sipping hot coffee and writing about my weird-good life. It's 11:42 am. I haven't eaten breakfast because, when I went downstairs to rummage through the fridge and cupboards, I couldn't decide what I wanted - too many choices. I declined a friend's invite to the gym because I needed to get some work done, and in a few minutes when I'm done “working”, I'll fill out my kids registration packets for the next school year with a huff of irritation at the inconvenience of having to use an actual pen to write actual words, like, with my hand.
And there it is.
This pendulum swings back and forth between awesome and ordinary, purpose and profit, fun and fundraising, selfishness and sacrifice, necessity and luxury, hard and easy, me and family, and on and on and on - sometimes going from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds.

I cry for the end of slavery on Monday night and paint my toenails on Tuesday morning.
I raise money for non-profits and spend money on a non-fat lattes.
I'm pretty sure I've stood up and spoken passionately about social justice while wearing clothes that were made by children in sweat shops. What? Yes.
And I believe I can see the hand of God at work as clearly in the back of a dark theater at the bottom of a bucket of popcorn as I do at the front of the Church or the foot of the Slave.
Back and forth, back and forth. The world keeps rushing by, a blurred streaky mess, filled with offers and opportunities and enticing engagements. From Asia to LA, from the suburbs to the strip clubs, from the blog to the bathroom and back again, I ride the pendulum, dazed and confused. I'm trying so hard to reconcile the gross with the good, that sometimes I forget to look, instead, for the still, unmoving places, smooth spots in the landscape of life where God can be seen clearly. It's only when I see Him in the chaos and confusion that I find clarity and rest.
Don't get me wrong, life still doesn't make sense. Like, at all. 
Try as I might, I can't seem to put it all together in a nice neat package. But maybe that's because I've been trying to make vanity and materialism fit neatly into my life, right next to selflessness and generosity. Maybe I shouldn't want arrogance smooshed up against humility, or ignorance tucked in with wisdom. Perhaps anger wasn't supposed to be given a spot with Grace at all. 
The opposite ends of a pendulum aren't meant to come together. They never were. 
So maybe I should stop trying so hard and just...I don't know...  Go with it? 
Do you ever look at your life and think, "WHAT IS HAPPENING?!". ... No? Just me? Ok. Carry on, then. 

Crossed Paths.

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 17:04
Hey, I hope our paths cross someday!
I say that a lot to people on the internet. Sometimes, I even mean it.
Lately I've crossed paths with a ton of new people in a bunch of new places, some from the internet and some just by chance and some because I strategically positioned myself between them and the bathroom door at a party where I might accidentally bump into them by sheer coincidence.
While I've never had the opportunity to try out the internet dating scene ~ Thank you, Sweet Baby Jesus!~  I imagine crossing paths with internet friends is a little like that. There are so many questions prior to the big meetup. Do they look like their pics? Do I look like mypics?! Will it be weird? Will Ibe weird? Will we have anything to talk about outside of the things that brought us together in internetland? Or will I have to stutter and press my way through an overly long conversation about my cat. It's just scary. There are so many factors that come into play when you're doing something face to face with another person that you would normally only do online. All of a sudden, the ideas you've formulated about me have to shake hands with the actual me – and vice versa – and it can be a little off-putting when the e-version of a human being doesn't match the flesh-y version.
Fortunately, most of the time, it all shakes out pretty well. Like, yeah, there might be that one awkward moment where you're all “OMG. When you called yourself the 'OneArmedWonder' on Twitter, I thought it was, like, a metaphor. I didn't realize you're missing an actual arm! But I feel like once everyone gets past the bad skin, frizzy hair, wonky teeth, and cheap clothes Instagram has somehow morphed into pure hipster hotness, we can all relax. After that it's all downhill, a sense of relief even, as we sip our drinks and talk and laugh and take in each other's imperfect humanness. I've really started to look forward to the part where we all slip out of our Avatar skin and into something a little more comfortable.

What's really scary, though, are chance meetings! Chance meetings are frightening. They usually happen as the result of my husband's work stuff or my kid's school stuff forcing me to engage in social situations with folks I wouldn't normally... um... gravitate toward, and, much to my socially-challenged chagrin, these interactions always start with small talk. I hate small talk. I hate it so much. I think it should be illegal to torture the people around you with comments about the weather, the stock market, the president, the place you were born, the length of the line we're both standing in, the price of a cup of coffee, the kids these days, or really anything else that I don't care about at all. I realize this would be a difficult law to enforce, but, please, for the sake of the introverts; Stop small talk! #enditnow
Yeah. I have no idea how we'd develop new relationships without those first few stupid questions, but surely we can think of a way. We could start by asking ourselves, “What are the chances I will see this person again?” then based on the percentage of likelihood, you could have like one dumb comment per ten percent chance of future meeting. So, if our paths cross at church? Maybe you get 8 attempts at chatter. If we're sitting next to each other in the bleachers, but our kids are on opposing teams? You've got 3 strikes to elicit a conversation, then I'm out. If we're in line at the grocery store? Shut up. Just, don't talk to me. … Sorry. That was rude! I meant to say don't talk to me, please.
Until the law changes, I will continue to grudgingly participate in small talk. I'll hate every minute of it, but I'll do it. 
The other day, I was on one of those awful tiny airplanes with propellers (so if your plane crashes and you're lucky enough to survive, you're sure to be chopped up on your way out the emergency exit), and small talk introduced me to the guy in the next seat. Turns out, he was the kid of missionaries in South America who work with missionaries I went to language school with in Costa Rica. For real. Our paths crossed, randomly, on a 45 minute flight over Colorado, and it turned out we were connected by one family we'd met in two foreign countries over a span of seven years. Crazy, right?! Granted, I was hesitant to tell him my name, because I don't think those particular language school buddies are fond of my swearin' drinkin' Jesus lovin' ways (and that's ok!), but still – what a cool reminder that our big world is so small.
In all of my recent path crossing I've been struck by how strangely and undeniably interconnected we are. Everywhere I go, I meet people who know people I know. And it seems like every conversation manages to turn toward some little point where we realize our paths are already crossed indirectly by mutual friends, or similar passions, or shared experiences. It appears there is always a place where our lives, yours and mine and everybody else's, seem to converge. Whether we know it or not, and even whether we want itor not, I believe our paths are crossed.
It's kind of creepy, but I kind of love it.
I believe in an intimately involved God, but not a puppet-master God. So I believe in things like chance and coincidence and random crap happening all over the planet all day long. When we say things like 'There are no coincidences', and when we chalk up a chance meeting to 'a God thing',it feels like we're missing out on the bigger picture of a world with a will, filled with lives created for purpose. Perhaps it's not simply the moment, itself, but what we do in the when and where of our crossed paths that reveals God's hand at work. Perhaps, it would be wise for each of us (but mainly me) to be a little more attentive, kind, and loving to this delicately spun network of souls that criss-cross the globe. Perhaps, we are connected to each other in ways haven't yet imagined...
If I don't already know you, I do hope our paths cross someday. 
But, like, I really mean it this time. 
.....      .....      .....
Who do you dream of crossing paths with?

Oh! And who's with me in my campaign to End Small Talk?!

700 words.

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 04:57

The first time I wrote about human-trafficking, someone told me he would never read my blog again.
He didn't think I'd done a good job telling the whole story, and, to be fair, he was kind of right. I wrote truthfully about little girls in aftercare facilities and young women dancing on my table, but only vaguely alluded to the war, greed, and politics that propel the victimization and impoverishment of many in South East Asia. I avoided those complexities in favor of telling the stories I felt like I'd had a small part in. I shared my tiny, two week glimpse into the world of trafficking and slavery from the only perspective I knew, and then, for a month after my trip, I labored over finding the right words, agonizing over every sentence and syllable, aching to tell the story well.
But still, he was right.
I failed to explore the intricate layers of cause and effect which come together to create and sustain the mistreatment of our fellow man. And honestly? Maybe I did that on purpose. Because I do not know what I'm talking about. I'm not educated, equipped, or experienced enough to have an intelligent discussion about the political violence, cultural oppression, subjugation of women, overt xenophobia, and abject poverty that collectively form an environment where a child can be bought and sold like a fish at market, a man can be consigned to a brick factory for the rest of his life, a woman can be purchased for sex against her will, and a government will do nothing to stop it.
I seriously don't know anything about any of that stuff.
You know what I know? I know how to tell stories in 700 words. That's what I know. They are true stories, to be sure, but they're usually touchy-feely, soul-squishy, heart-stringy stories. Basically, I have no idea how to talk about tough stuff like politics and corruption and war. That junk is scary and serious, and I didn't even take an Econ class in high school. ….So, like, what am I gonna say?
I don't know.
The truth is, when I wrote about my first trip to SE Asia and my first encounters with trafficking and the plight of underage sex workers, there are parts that I left out. In retrospect, it may have been to the detriment of the whole story. Maybe there are parts I should have told because, even in the context of my limited personal experience, they could have shed light on the bigger picture...
Like. Maybe I should have told you how, before I ever stepped foot in a brothel, I walked the blood soaked Earth of the Cambodian killing fields.
I stood where the bones of the dead are slowly making their way back into the sun and air. They rise from the ground to return to dust under the feet of gawking tourists, like me, and blow away on the whispered prayers of the Faithful who have come to pay their respects. There is a dirt path, dotted with dry bones and scraps of clothing, uncovered by the elements. Too many bones to unbury, this is what's left of the educated, the urban, and the intellectuals. I stepped on their remnants, the ribs and femurs of thinkers, innovators, engineers, and philosophers, the men and women who threatened the dream of a tyrant. And now they are all gone. I took off my shoes and passed through wisps of burning incense to stand beneath a tower of skulls. A gilded, five story shrine. An inventory of the dead. It is a place to stand face to face with the empty, un-accusing eye sockets of eight thousand people, just a small portion of the millions who were brutally murdered by Pol Pot's regime, less than 40 years ago. 
...Less than 40 years ago.
Staring into a pit where the babies were tossed, I realized I was born the year the Khmer Rouge began its mass extermination – those babies would be my age if they had been allowed to live. I thought about my earliest memory, from when I was barely three and my big brother flicked a bee at me and it stung me right in the belly button. If I had been born in Cambodia, and if I had been lucky enough to survive the Khmer Rouge, my earliest memories would be of... genocide.
I stayed there for a while, sweating and crying in the middle of the killing fields, wondering what kind of person I would be if my first memories were of death. What kind of parent would I have become? What kind of citizen would I be if I'd seen a government murder my family? Would I value human life more or less, if the ground I walked every day was littered with the bones of my neighbors? What would my country look like if all of the educated were eradicated a mere 40 years ago? And what would I be willing to do to survive?
I'm not pretending to have answers to those questions (Because, really? I can't even imagine. My early childhood trauma was a bee sting on my belly button, so I think it's safe to say that I have no idea what I'm even talking about right now.), but they do help paint a stunning picture of what could happen in the aftermath of desolation and destruction - not just the destruction of life, but of culture and history and family. The fallout would know no borders.
So, yeah, that guy was right.
Human-trafficking and slavery are symptoms of a much, much bigger disease, and those of us who feel compelled to seek Justice for the modern day slave must at least tryto understand the intricate dance between history and religion, wealth and poverty, warmongers and politicians. We'll have to get uncomfortably familiar with the intersection of cheap Eastern labor and the relentless Western demand for even cheaper goods. And then there's the nuanced difference between the exploited and the truly enslaved, and the confusing circle of abuse that continues when the trafficked becomes the trafficker, which is often the case.
Gah! It's so complicated, it makes my brain want to shrivel up and die.
I guess I've been thinking about this a lot, lately, because I'm headed back to South East Asia (though, not Cambodia). 8 weeks from today, I will board a plane for a miserably long flight to visit my favorite badass mofo undercover investigators from The Exodus Road.
And this time I'm taking friends!
No, seriously. I actually convinced three whole people to go visit South East Asian strip clubs with me. ...I am not even kidding. I think I have magic... Anyway. On June 16th, I'm taking my sarcasm twin, Kristen Howerton (Rage Against the Minivan), my favorite Guatemalan-rave-twerker, Roo Ciambriello (Semiproper),http://semiproper.com/ and the one and only Heather Armstrong (Ok, fine. There are probably other Heather Armstrongs - but Dooce, you guys. DOOCE.) to the other side of the world for an unforgettable tour of bars, brothels, and pedophile hot spots. For. Real.
It's gonna be like the most awesome week long squeally girls getaway ever! (Except, like, the exact opposite. Because slavery, butt-sweat, warm light beer, and trolling for underage prostitutes in a blacked out rental car are not my idea of an awesome girls getaway. I dunno, maybe that's just me.)
Not gonna lie. I'm pretty freaked about trying to write about this stuff again. It is impossible to tell the whole story of human-trafficking and the SE Asian sex-trade in 700 words. Impossible. But I am going to try to, at least, tell a wholer story, a story that acknowledges the depth and complexity of the issues at hand. I'm excited to show you the steps The Exodus Road is taking in response to the big picture of child slavery. I want to tell you about how these cycles of abuse and enslavement are being broken. I want you to hear that corrupt governments can clean themselves up, educating villages can prevent at-risk children from falling victim to traffickers, and prosecution of perpetrators is a viable deterrent to would-be abusers.
That guy really was right, the whole story matters. There is far more to it than the “sensational” stories of little girls scooped out of brothels to be nurtured and cared for, healed of deep emotional wounds, and, if at all possible, reunited with their parents. And, yes, it goes way beyond the flashy red light districts we've come to expect when we pull up sex-trafficking documentaries on Netflix.

The story of one arrest, the story of one rescue – they do lose some of their significance when you can't see the great odds that must be overcome to get there. The story of one national worker who chooses a low paying job on an anti-trafficking task force over a big paycheck upon college graduation - because he believes in the value of a human life - is far more impressive in the context of the whole big mess. But there is still a place for their 700 word stories. We get to mourn individual losses and celebrate small victories, and fall in love with the people they belong to.
We get to say what we know, even if all we know is what we learned when our bare feet brushed the bleached bones of the dead; Every story matters.  

I can't explain how or why, but in some places my life has come to intersect with some of the world's 27,000,000 slaves. So I think I'm just gonna keep telling these stories, theirs and mine,
700 perfectly inadequate words at a time. 
....     .....     ....
It took me 1500 words to say that... *sigh*