A Call to Action

It usually seems appropriate to start a blog post with some kind of witty anecdote or deep, meaningful quotation. But no amount of wit or mask of implied depth would be an appropriate introduction to the topic of slavery.

It has been fairly easy up until the past few months to a year to believe the false assumption that slavery in the United States died with the thirteenth amendment. I mean, we all learn about the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the abolition of slavery.

If you're like me, whenever you heard the word "slavery" you immediately conjured up mental images of ships full of African natives, reminiscent of scenes from Amistad. And yes, those scenes did happen. There were hundreds of thousands of innocent people ripped away from their homes and families and sold to the highest bidders, only to find themselves in a strange land with strange people, strange language and strange customs. Not to mention the horrible ways they were treated, being beaten, raped, and even killed for not pleasing their masters.

But slavery runs so much deeper than merely being an issue of black and white. And despite the best efforts of our forefathers, slavery is still very much alive today, in America and around the world.

I knew this, of course, in a vague, distant sort of way. The sort of way that doesn't really touch me if I don't look at it.

How many people have suffered because I turned away?

God sent me an eye-opener this week in the form of a film called Trade of Innocents. The university I attended for my freshman and sophomore years hosted an event on Monday night in which they held an exclusive screening of the film as well as a question & answer time with the screenwriter/director Christopher Bessette afterward. Not to mention the fact that they had tables set up in the lobby for their social justice department and several organizations that fight human trafficking here in Tennessee, including End Slavery Tennessee and Abolition International. I scooped up several pamphlets, information sheets, and even purchased a bracelet from To Be Free, an extension of Abolition International that sets up and supports after-care for women and girls who have been rescued from sex slavery.

And this was all before I saw the film.

I found my movie buddy and we sat down on the bleachers in the campus church's gym. After some brief introductions of students who worked on marketing the film, the movie started.

Aesthetically the film was beautifully made. The scenery is lush, the music is lovely, the actors are phenomenal.

But beyond that, it tells the heart-wrenching story of girls - some as young as five - who are stolen from their homes and off the streets of Cambodia and sold as sex slaves to "sex tourists." I cried for probably half of the movie.

At the end of the credits, the director of the university's social justice department introduced Christopher Bessette, the film's screenwriter and executive director. He answered questions as to his motives behind the film, why he did certain things creatively, and resources for more information on human trafficking today.

One of the things that struck me most was his description of the moment he knew he had to make this film. He said he had gone to Cambodia and visited a former-brothel-now-safe-house and stood in what used to be called "The Virgin Room," looking down through a barred window at children playing in the street below. He thought, "Sometime, not too long ago, a little girl might have stood at this very window, looking down at children playing, and thinking to herself, 'Why can't I be down there too?'" And he said he got chills and breathed the prayer, "Oh, God, help me tell her story."

That is what he did with this film.

And the only way we can hope to abolish human trafficking - slavery of any kind - whether it is sex trafficking, labor trafficking, or something else, is by telling the victims' stories. There are so many people in the world right now who are like I was a year ago - untouched by this issue because they fear to get a good enough glimpse at it.

But we can't afford to turn away any longer.

According to End Slavery Tennessee:

*Every minute, two children are trafficked (worldwide).

*There are currently around 27 million slaves in the world. Of those, half are minors and 80% are female.

*The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is between 12 and 14 years old.

*One-third of runaways will be sexually exploited within 48 hours of leaving home; 90% will end up in commercial sex trade.

These children are in our neighborhoods, on our doorstep, in our back yards. You don't have to go to Cambodia to find human trafficking. It's happening right here, right now. When will we stop looking away and finally do something?

God lit the fire under me this week, and the wheels have been turning as I've been trying to discover how I can best use the gifts and talents God has given me to help put a stop to this horrific monster we call slavery and human trafficking. I have some ideas.

What about you? What will you do? Will you look into the eyes of the Innocents and reach out your hand to help?

Or will you turn away?

Now


O to grace how great a debtor 
daily I'm constrained to be! 
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, 
bind my wandering heart to thee. 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
prone to leave the God I love; 
here's my heart, O take and seal it, 
seal it for thy courts above. 

("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," Robert Robinson)

The giving of one's testimony - or the story of how Christ saved a person - is an important part of most Christian circles. It is common to give one's testimony in a church service, or to share it with a group of friends in some kind of bible study setting. Usually it refers to the story of how a person came to know Christ - commonly, the events leading up to that particular incident which, in much of Christendom, is the end-all/be-all event of one's life.

However, I have come to realize in recent years that a testimony is not - and SHOULD not be - limited to a single life event, but rather is something that should be lived out daily.

When I was baptized in the Nazarene church, I had to publicly answer a series of questions regarding my faith in Christ, including this one:
     "Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and do you realize that He saves you now?"
"...saves you now" it says.

Now.

As in, in this very moment. In every moment, Jesus saves you, is saving you, continually. I of course responded with "I do." But I did not fully understand at that time what it meant that Jesus "saves me now."

When we talk about Jesus saving us, we tend to refer to a particular frozen moment in time - a moment that seems wistfully and distantly removed from where we are now. There always seems to be a zeal and a spark connected to that moment of saving grace that somehow never made it to this present moment. I used to hear people's testimonies of how Jesus saved them from lives of alcohol, drug, or sex addiction, how they had been in prison, on the streets, at rock bottom, and Jesus swept in and rescued them, removing the need for anything but Him.

I secretly used to wish that I could have a rock bottom.

I know. You're probably thinking, "Are you insane? Really?"

But I did. Because those people always seemed to have so much energy and abounding love and gratitude when it came to Christ. And I, having grown up knowing Christ from the time I was a child, had the monotony of one who knew all the right answers but for whom they held no depth of meaning.

There is a phrase in Chris Daughtry's song "Home" that goes "Be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it all, you just might get it all, and then some you don't want."

It started back in 2003. I was just about to start my first year back at college when my parents announced they would be getting divorced. This struck me hard. Divorce went against everything my parents had said they believed, and so it was difficult to reconcile the whys with belief. I became, for a time, a go-between messenger, hearing "you tell your father blah blah blah" and "next time you talk to you mother tell her blah blah blah." It was emotionally exhausting, and eventually I had to remove myself from that situation.

During the same time, my husband was going through some stuff that made our marriage more of a hostile
desert environment than a blossoming oasis. The gravity of this combined with the emotional stress of my parents' divorce wore me down, and I ended up on a trial of anti-depressants for a while.

One evening, after getting off the phone with one of my parents, I was in tears. My husband began arguing with me, saying that their divorce wasn't even my concern, and I shouldn't have to bear the weight of it. His parents had at that point been married for 42 years. I yelled at him that he had no idea what it was to go through his parents separation and divorce. And he yelled at me that I shouldn't even be upset about it.

This was the beginning of the emotional rift.

At that time, there was a certain young man who had been a decent acquaintance. When I disclosed to him that my parents were getting divorced and how it was shaking me emotionally, he immediately offered comfort, saying he understood exactly what it was like as his parents had also divorced while he was in college. He offered me a shoulder to lean on at a time when I most needed my husband, who had offered me nothing but bitterness and anger.

I toed the door open ever so slightly.

Over the next two or so years, I entertained lively fantasies in my head of this man, while simultaneously sowing bitterness toward my husband, who continued to battle his own demons. Instead of trying to support one another and grow closer, our lives seemed to be pulling us apart.

I recognized for a long time that I was suffering from depression and I realized that I had allowed my heart to grow so distant from my husband that I was ready to leave him if this other man were to give me any indication that there was a reason to leave.

I also knew that this was not what God wanted for my life. I still loved my husband, deep down. But that love was buried beneath layers and layers of hurt and anger. I knew that in the emotional state I was in, I would not be able to dig myself out of that. But I wanted to be free of it.

I felt so tiny, so small, buried inside myself. There was this huge swirling mess of tangled emotions, depression, lust, heartache, fear. And somewhere deep inside was that little spark that was still me. And that little spark knew that the only way out of this mess was by giving it all over to Jesus.

And so I prayed.

Anytime my thoughts or emotions felt bigger than me.
Anytime I really wanted to give into those fantasies.
Anytime I wanted to yell and scream at my husband.
Anytime I thought about taking the whole bottle of pills.

I prayed.

And little by little, the darkness grew less.
Little by little, my burdens got lighter.

I slowly, steadily made progress, learning to forgive, learning to heal. Learning to stop blaming other people for the mess I had become.

And learning to stop hiding.

Because when you grow up Christian, and your life falls apart, it's hard to let other people see you as you are. I had been trying so hard to put on a brave face, to make everything seem okay when it really wasn't okay.

I found that I still had friends who cared about me, people who took the time to pray with and for me. And they didn't think I was a horrible, terrible person for all the things that had been going on in my head and my heart. They thought I was human.

I was finally making headway, coming out of that dark place in my life. My husband was making progress as well, coming out of his dark place.

And then, in 2008, we discovered that I was pregnant.

We were ecstatic! Joyous! Thrilled!

Now that we were together again in spirit, we would finally have a living testament to our oneness in the form of a beautiful baby.

Everything was going well.

Until my water broke at 5 months.

I remember the car ride to the hospital, my lungs heaving, trying to find air, as my entire body was wracked with uncontrollable chills from the adrenaline rush that told me I was losing my baby. I watched the midnight city lights rush past my window in a blur of color, not paying attention to anything but what my body was telling me as my husband slammed on the gas, veering around slow-moving traffic to get me to the hospital as quickly as possible.

As the nurses attached monitors to my body and probed my womb with ultrasound scanners, they told me that I had no amniotic fluid left. My baby was okay for now, but without the amniotic fluid, her lungs would not develop properly.

After a while, I was alone, in a dark room surrounded by the beeping of heart rate monitors for the baby and blood pressure and contraction monitors for me. My bed was slightly inclined at the foot to try to counteract any evil plot gravity may have had for pulling my baby from my body.

The uncontrollable shaking had still not stopped. My jaw quivered as I gasped out the only prayer I could think of: "God, I just want my baby to be safe, whether that's in my arms or in yours."

The shaking stopped and for the first time in hours, I felt a warm peace creep through my body. And I was somehow able to sleep.

Days went by and not much changed. I clung to the hope that my life would continue thus for the next few months, boring and dull as it was to be trapped in a hospital bed. I hoped that my sweet baby girl would stay safely tucked away in my womb until her lungs were developed enough that she could breathe on her own - or at least with the help of a machine.

But she had other plans.

After two weeks in the hospital, it became obvious that our sweet Genna's birth was imminent. With nothing to keep her in my womb (the amniotic sac having been compromised when my water broke), Genna's little feet began pushing through my cervix. It would only be a matter of hours before I would have to birth her.

I never went into labor, never had contractions with her. She just gradually made her way out until I was forced to push her fully into the world.

Upon the last push, there was no loud baby cry, no joyous intake of breath at her baby cuteness. Rather, there was a quiet and focused determination as my doctor snipped the cord and the neonatologists rushed her across the room to try to get her hooked up to an oxygen machine.

And as she came out of my body, I shuddered a gut-wrenching sob that forced all the air out of my lungs. I knew she was going to die.

My doctor came over and just stood next to me, holding my hand as I cried up to the ceiling.

It was only a few moments before my husband came over to me and told me that the neonatologists had done all they could do for our sweet little girl. And so they wrapped her up in a receiving blanket - which was so huge around her tiny, one-pound-three-point-nine-ounce body - and we held her.

She was so tiny that her eyes were still fused shut - she never got to see me. But I know with certainty that she knew who I was. At one point, as I cradled her miniscule body close to mine, I reached down and touched her spindly, fork-prong-sized fingers with my seemingly gigantic pinky finger. And with those tiny, spindly fingers, she gripped my pinky with all the strength she could muster.

It was the only hug I ever got from my first child.

And I will never forget it.

In the months that followed, I spoke all the right answers, but I did not feel them. I grew cynical and distant. I stopped answering phone calls - partly because I kept getting calls from a healthy pregnancy program through my insurance company, who kept leaving me messages asking about my due date and cheerily stating they hoped all was well.

I hated them. I hated a lot of things. And, okay, probably a lot of people. But I buried it. I tried not to show it.

It was desperately difficult to go to church, where my husband was youth pastoring a youth group in which there were two pregnant teenagers, both of whom had uncomplicated pregnancies.

I asked God why. Why had I done everything right, and my baby died? Why were these girls "living in sin" and yet their babies were fine? It wasn't fair. None of it was fair at all.

I ended up stepping down from my position at work, which was the Children's Department Lead at a bookstore. It was too difficult coming into work and reading stories to groups of happy toddlers, helping mothers with tiny, healthy babies find books on parenting, and seeing young families laugh and play together. I just couldn't do it anymore.

All the while, I wondered why. Why, God? I had just finally started to feel healthy and whole inside again. And then you take my baby away? I just couldn't grasp it.

I stoically did not let myself grieve until that September - a whole four months after my sweet Genna left us. I went to a women's retreat with my church, and there, while perusing some books in their bookshop, I saw a couple books about grieving the loss of a child. One of the books specifically dealt with stillbirth, miscarriage, and neonatal loss.

I bought the books and devoured them. It was a little difficult to read through all the tears. But it was cathartic. I finally allowed myself to face my grief head-on.

And I began to realize that God didn't just let my baby die, and God didn't steal my baby away from me. God was grieving right along with me. Every step of the way.

I have never gotten over the loss of my first baby. I don't think it's possible for any parent to "get over" losing a child. Ever. But gradually, the days and weeks get easier to bear. My husband and I have had two healthy living children since then (though we have also experienced three miscarriages besides the loss of our sweet Genna).

And I thank God daily for my beautiful daughter and son, that I can hug them and hold them and cuddle with them. That I can take them to the park and the library. That we can read and sing and play together. That they can breathe with no difficulties. That they are not chronically ill and have no health issues whatsoever.
My life has gotten infinitely better. Sure, my husband and I argue from time to time. (Sometimes several times a day.) But it's not the kind of argument that threatens a marriage. We end up laughing. We have learned to communicate. To forgive. To love fully.

Does that mean that we are without troubles? Without temptations?

Certainly not.

I will freely admit, there are still days when faded memories of a certain young man come drifting into my mind, or when I may feel a bit of attraction for someone rise to the surface, or when I feel depression setting in. But now I am better equipped to swat them away with the swift hand of Christ's purity. Am I always successful? No.

But Jesus saves me now.

Now.

In this moment.