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?

"I don't have time for this!"

I've been really convicted lately about how much I yell at my daughter. A lot of my underlying frustration has been due to the fact that, besides trying to care for our almost-two-year-old daughter, we have an almost-two-month-old son, and I've been adjusting to life with two children. And that frustration usually surfaces in the form of yelling at my daughter. Not that it's in any way excusable simply because of our recent family addition.

I've noticed that a lot of the time, my fall-back phrase is "I don't have time for this!" Because usually Megan is having a meltdown right when we're getting ready to walk out the door or have company over or some such thing. In these moments, I need to stop and think about several things:

1. Really? I don't have time? 'Cause last time I checked, I'm a stay-at-home mom. It's not like I'm fighting traffic to drop the kids off at daycare, fighting traffic to get to work, working an eight- or nine-hour (or longer) day, fighting traffic to pick up the kids & get home, only to make dinner, clean the house & still be a full-time mom. (I commend you ladies who can find it in yourselves to do that. And at the same time, I am sad that you don't get to spend your days watching your children grow moment by moment.)

2. Is wherever we're going/whatever we're doing really so important that I just can't be a few minutes late? Usually we're going to the grocery store or to pick up daddy from work.

3. If I can't find or make the time to just hold my daughter while she cries for a couple of minutes (whether there's a reason or not), to comfort her and let her know that I'm there for her and that it's absolutely okay to be sad or mad or scared or whatever, and that mommy and daddy and Jesus are right here to listen to her or just BE with her, then I am not being a very responsible - or responsive - parent.

See, sometimes I fall into that mindset of "children should know how to behave." But first of all, my daughter is not even 2 yet. Even if I tell her three times (or three hundred times) how to do something, her brain nay not yet have the ability to retain that information. So telling her she "should know better" makes no sense. Also, most of her frustrating behaviors aren't misbehaviors. They either just irritate me but are harmless, or are done out of curiosity. It is at these times that I need to remind myself that there is a vast difference between "discipline" and "punishment." When I think of discipline, I think of Jesus and his disciples: how Jesus patiently taught them, even when they didn't get it the first time, even when he had to repeat himself. When I think of punishment, I think of being sent to my room or spankings or losing certain priveledges.
I need to think of these moments with my daughter as "teaching moments," because that's exactly what discipline is: an opportunity to teach.

Instead of yelling or letting my momentary emotions get the best of me, I need to breathe deeply and see my opportunity to help shape her character. So the next time she screams and refuses to get in her carseat, I'll take a deep breath, hold her in my arms, and find out what's really going on. Even if it means I'll be fifteen minutes late to whatever thing I have to go to. Because you know what? My daughter is more important than that. And I absolutely DO have time for her.

Sad

Earlier today, I was sad, because I said that Genna would be 2 years old in May.

She would be 3.

Do you know how painful that is? To realize that you've forgotten things about your (dead) child?

Granted, she hasn't been with us, so I don't have the daily reminder of her growth and development to show me that, yes, she's a toddler.

But my baby girl would be a toddler right now. She would be almost pre-school age.

And I forgot.

I think a year of Genna's would-be life got swallowed up by the past year of Megan's actual life.

Because Megan is real. She is living, breathing, playing, walking, babbling.

Genna is a memory.

Holding God's Hand

On Tuesday, I went to a woman's house to buy a stroller for a friend (it was a surprise for her, that's why I'm only now writing about this). This woman was wonderful, and we shared a bit about ourselves. When she saw that I could navigate around a Peg Perego stroller like nobody's business, she asked me, naturally, "Wow! Do you have kids?"

How do you reply to this question when your only child, whom you barely had the chance to hold, is no longer with you?

In my case, it went something like this: "Nn--. Ye--. Well, sort of."

And then I felt guilty. For saying "sort of."

I shared with her my story of how our first baby girl, Genna, came early and her lungs weren't developed enough for her to survive outside the womb. How we had a very short hour and forty-three minutes with her.

I did not share with her, though, how guilty I feel. Because I believe that over the past four months, I have tried to forget.

I don't think this was intentional, necessarily. I think it was more a subconscious reaction to grief. I'm going to admit something: There have been many times over the past several months in which I have not thought about my daughter for several days at a time. Not consciously, at least.

It is difficult to go through something so heart-wrenching and be all put-back-together quickly. I think if that happens, something is wrong. But I think that I have had problems dealing with the how of the grieving process. Let me explain why.

I believe that my daughter is in heaven with Jesus right now. I believe she was the moment after she breathed her last. Which means that "she" (or rather, her soul) was no longer part of her body, which I was holding when she died. I believe that the tiny body that we buried in May is not my daughter. It is merely a shell, the housing for her soul, if you will.

Because of my faith, I logically know that she is in better hands, in the best place, really, that she could ever be. And logically, I know - have seen proof - that so much good has come about in the wake of her death. And for this I am so grateful. And I know that I will see her again...someday.

But the thing I'm having trouble with is the sadness. The mourning of the loss of a part of my husband and me that we will never get back in this life. The loss of the opportunity to raise my daughter. And I allow myself to feel that sadness sometimes, but then I feel guilty for feeling sad, because I feel like I am being selfish. And so I have had problems balancing how to grieve properly. I will have times where I can talk about Genna happily. And then I occasionally have moments, typically when I am by myself, where I just break down, I miss her so much. And I can't for the life of me find a balance.

But I think that maybe just allowing myself to feel whatever feelings come is the first step. And my biggest comfort has come in knowing that my God has experienced the same feelings before. When Jesus died on the cross, He and God were separated for a time. God had to look away because Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself. And when He died, God felt that loss. He grieved for a time, because He didn't have His Son with Him. He knows what I'm going through.

And the best part is that there was a happy ending to that story: Jesus is alive, and the separation was not permanent. God has His Son back, forever.

And one day, I will have my daughter back too. All I can do for now is hold God's hand.