Creation of our Family- May 24, 2014

Monday, April 25, 2016

La Luz

“La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará”

            I originally began this journal entry on March 20, while I was in Antigua, Guatemala. My last few days in Guatemala filled up so quickly that I never returned to finish it! God has been moving mightily in the past month and I have a lot to share today: healing and hope, the resurrection of dreams, and next steps for our family. Just a warning: this is a long and exciting blog post. :) 
            This morning, as I sat down to finally write this blog entry, the words in today’s message in Reckless Devotion fairly jumped off the page at me. Heidi Baker is writing these words as if God were speaking to our hearts: Allow me to work with you. All I need is your willingness. Overcome your pride and come to Me. Let go of your preconceptions. Let go of every reason why something miraculous should not happen in your situation. Be obedient to Me. Allow me to step into your situation and show you what I can do with the smallest amount of trust.

          And so there is my challenge: to trust God with every situation in my life. To let go and be willing to see the miraculous happen. To obey and take the next step. And friends, I invite you to do the same. As you read the words below and see all that God has done in my life over the past month, please be open and be willing. Let go. Choose to trust God with every situation in your life. Even when life feels overwhelming and painful, and dreams seem so far away, trust.

A world without human trafficking
To recap the second half of the conference, before we went to Antigua, it was life-changing and transformational in the midst of much pain and conflict. All of our participants chose a type of violence to focus on in small groups. Many of them had been directly affected by the type of violence they chose. For example, the woman who chose to focus on human trafficking had a daughter who currently was being trafficked and exploited through pornography. We asked the groups to dream for a few moments about what the world would look like without the type of violence they focused on. What would their communities look like? What would the lives of the survivors look like if this type of violence no longer existed at all?

A world without gang violence
A world without gender-based violence
Abundance. Wholeness. Light. Equality. Freedom. The artistic expressions they created of the world without violence sprang off the pages with hope. No more human trafficking. No more gang violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or violence during migration. A world of peace and potential for all people.

A world without migration violence
A world without domestic violence
After they created their visions of a world without violence, they began working on the specific tool kit they would use to help their communities heal after they returned home. The amazing effect of these tools went beyond healing to prevention. As each participant  shared both their story of healing and their plans for promoting healing in their communities, the entire group tangibly felt the weight of transformation among us.            
         This one week of my life spent co-facilitating this conference in Guatemala City now shines clearly as the most impactful, long-lasting work I have ever done to prevent violence and seek justice for the oppressed. I am awed and amazed that I had this opportunity, and that so many partnered with me to bring about this transformation. I truly believe that the epidemic violence in Central America will ultimately be stopped by the people at our conference and those they will touch.

The remainder of my time in Guatemala passed quickly, a combination of visiting a home for child sexual abuse survivors, enjoying the excitement of Antigua during semana santa, and working with Laurel on our human trafficking article. Palm Sunday morning was an incredible experience- walking around the city of Antigua, Guatemala, so that we could see the people making the alfombras and palmas for the processions today. That day was so special- domingo de las ramas- in Guatemala, which means parades, crowds, flowers, and huge carpets made of flowers, leaves, and colored sawdust in the streets near the catholic churches. I was astonished at the outpouring of the faithful that week, a reminder of the joy present even amidst the violence in Central America. 

Through it all, the words spoken by Willie, the president of Semilla Seminary, at our closing event stayed in my heart:  “La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará.” No matter how dark, and no matter how hopeless, light will always shine through the darkness.

Human Trafficking
If you have known me in the last seven years, you know that advocating for human trafficking survivors is central to my heart and my life vocation. I have not often used this blog as an opportunity to share that part of me, as the purpose of it was initially to give voice to one of the most difficult parts of who I am, namely, my unfulfilled desire to be a mother. But today is different. This is really a snapshot blog entry of a lot of the different things happening in my life right now. And my work related to human trafficking is a part of what is happening, friends!

            Since our move to Minnesota, I have stayed active as an advocate for human trafficking survivors and for systems change around anti-trafficking issues. It has been a wonderful experience getting connected to organizations here (The Advocates for Human Rights, the Minnesota Department of Health), while continuing some of my work with Ohio. I am so grateful for these partners and friends, old and new! 

            Two new exciting things have happened recently. First, in August I will become an adjunct professor for the first time. I will be teaching an online course called Human Trafficking and the Law through the University of Toledo, and it is already full of criminal justice and social work students!! I am thrilled for the opportunity, because I have learned that our collective response to human trafficking really grows exponentially more effective the more multi-disciplinary professionals truly understand human trafficking. Kudos to the University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute for pushing hard for this course! 

            Second, returning to Guatemala for a moment, I just need to say I am so excited for the article that Laurel Neufeld Weaver and I are writing on human trafficking. It is called Moving Forward: Accompanying Human Trafficking Survivors Using Trauma-Informed Practices in the United States, and will be an amazing, practical tool for people who interact with and serve human trafficking survivors in any capacity on their journey to wholeness and healing. Much of what we write about is inspired by our experiences in Ohio working directly with survivors, but it is framed by the conference we recently led in Guatemala City.

Friends, if you work with the survivors of any form of violence or exploitation, this article will help you prepare, evaluate, and implement more effective accompaniment of survivors. I wish I would have had access to an article like this when I first started representing trafficking survivors!

And one more thing about trafficking: I am coming to Ohio in June to provide a series of trainings of labor trafficking and trafficking of children in rural communities. Ohio friends: I hope to see you when we are in the state!

Many of you have accompanied me over the past seven years as I have sought to follow God’s calling on my life to advocate for human trafficking survivors and be a voice for the voiceless. I have now come to understand that calling in a slightly different way. As I have learned about trauma and healing through working so closely with almost 200 survivors, I have come to understand that, rather than me giving voice to a voiceless victim, my goal is to build up that victim so he or she can become a survivor able to advocate for himself or herself. Coming out of such utter despair, darkness, and struggle, it can be hard to even imagine such a thing. But I have seen it happen over and over! 

I come back again to the words I heard at Semilla: “La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará.”  Hope is the light that shines through and helps illuminate the next steps for victims, the steps that help them climb out of darkness and into light. 

New Job! My African Heart
In southeast Kenya with a group of community health workers, July 2009 
I realize this blog post is getting long… but now I hope I have your attention (or maybe you skipped down to this section to hear the big news)! And so here it is: I have committed to become the new Executive Director at Light of Hope Kenya and Lighthouse Ministries International of Africa!! 

            We are still negotiating the contract details, so it is not completely official yet, but I needed to let all you out there who have been praying for us and supporting us know that I got a full-time job! And so much more than a full-time job… this is a dream come true! I will be directing an organization that works with girls in Africa, providing refuge, restoration, and redirection through shelter, education, and leadership training. Many of these girls come to the program because of abuse or exploitation, neglect, abandonment, or being orphaned. The organization helps them grow into leaders in their communities and dramatically reduces their risk of being trafficked, abused, or exploited as adults. The current work (of serving almost 100 girls daily in Kenya) is big, but the vision is even bigger!

            Since leaving Ohio, my passion for human trafficking survivors has really led me back to prevention. I have focused on adoption and foster care, on empowerment to prevent re-victimization, and now on protecting and educating highly vulnerable girls. It is a perfect fit! And even more exciting: I get to go back to Africa for the first time in six years!!

God has been equipping me for this opportunity, and I am so excited to jump in full-time on July 1. Stay tuned for more details about how you can get involved with Light of Hope. :)

Our Family
And so here we are again, after all of the exciting news, talking about babies. I will keep this last section short and sweet.

Many of you have come along with Josh and I on this journey from the beginning of our infertility diagnosis. My heart aches when I think back on everything we have endured. Friends, it has been a year of difficult anniversaries (one month since we lost the first set of babies, the date the first set of twins would have been due, a month since we lost the second set of babies). And now, as many of you know, it has been exactly one year since e created our six little embryos and our first IVF attempt failed. We lost two babies in April 2015.
Picture taken April 28, 2015 over a field near our home in Defiance, OH
We actually found out on the last Tuesday morning in April last year. That’s when I got the worst phone call of my life to that point: “Unfortunately, I am not calling with good news. The test was negative. You lost both babies.” Josh and I still remain so incredibly grateful to all of you who reached out to us, loved us, encouraged us, prayed for us, and even made us laugh as we struggled to respond. And so, it will be one year ago tomorrow. My heart is heavy, yet full. God is on the move. Over this last year, time and again I have seen his resurrection power and yielded my own will to his. He is the God of miracles, and his Light always will triumph over darkness.

“La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará.”

We will keep moving forward: praying for a miracle and planning for adoption. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us. Lots of big things coming and evidence of hope everywhere! Your support helps us keep on believing and helps us see the light shining through. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sendas Dios hara

“Sendas Dios hara cuando camino no lo hay… Dios hara algo nuevo hoy.”

“La pobreza abre la puerta a todos los tipos de violencia.” (Poverty opens the door to all types of violence) This sharing and growth in community has been transformative for me, and for so many of the other participants. We have begun to both understand and experience transformation as God has opened our eyes. Many have been awakened to the suffering in their own countries, and have committed to truly seeing the needs around them.

Two women here have really touched my heart. I spent time with each of them one on one in the last couple of days. They shared their struggles and pain with me, and I prayed with them, listened, and encouraging them to allow God to use their pain to help others. This morning, during our opening time of devotions and reflections, both of these women shared their stories of transformation and encouraged others to allow their hearts to be touched and to support one another as we seek healing. 

Let me take a moment to describe the place where we are holding the conference. We meet each day in the Volcano Room, on the fifth floor of CASAS. The room has a wall of windows on three sides. All around us, we see palm trees and flowers, and there are volcanoes in the distance on every side. CASAS is located in Zona 11 of Guatemala City, and is within a small, gated neighborhood. To the right, from my view in the Volcano Room, I see NoviCentro, the shopping center where we have gone for groceries, ATM machines, printing, ice cream, and other food. 

The food here has been very good- I love the comida tipica. Our evening meal (cena) has been red or black beans with tortillas, white cheese, salsa, and crema. One night, we had hardboiled eggs with it, and the other night they served sausages. The juices here, of course, are wonderful. The most common is rosa de Jamaica- hibiscus flower juice. I already bought a little box rosa de Jamaica tea to share when I get home.

 The evening today was incredible. After a somewhat difficult afternoon with some cultural and language confusions in the conference (turns out that the concept of “trauma-informed care” does not translate very clearly), the night was a beautiful celebration. The Nicaraguan students prepared the cena for everyone: gallo pinto (rice and black beans cooked together), planatanos maduros fritos (my favorite!! Fried sweet plantains), pico de gallo, crema, and queso nicaraguense. Amazingly delivious!

Laurel and I with Olga Piedrasantas
After dinner, an older Guatemalan woman name Olgita, who is helping facilitat 
e the conference, prepared and led a Mayan ceremony of healing from trauma. She shared about the war and the pain of the Mayan people facing the deaths and disappearances of their family members. Twenty years after the war, some of them participated in exhuming the bodies of their loved ones from mass graves. She shared about her role of providing psychological support at the site of the exhumation. She stood side by side, arm around their shoulders, as the forensic archeologists delicately uncovered and presented them with the clothing their family members were buried in. Twenty years later, they still recalled exactly which shirt, pants, or skirt they were murdered in.
For grinding the corn into flour

The ceremony focused on the process of making tortillas… from sowing the seeds, to growing the plants, to harvesting, to shelling, washing, cooking, grinding, mixing with water, preparing the masa, and palmeando las tortillas. Finally, they are ready to cook, and eat. These new friends of mine shared for fifteen minutes or more about each of these steps (and a learned many new words! I don’t think we have quite so many, many words to describe corn in English). Then Olgita took everything through visualization, bringing us to a place of rest and bringing with us the person we most love and trust in our lives. There were raw grains of corn there is a bowl, along with a pot of water, brought to us by our loved one. Then, one by one, we were asked to picture removing each raw piece of corn from the bowl, which represented each time of pain and suffering in our lives. Slowly, as we removed them from the dark bowl and brought them into the light the shell began to crack. As we put them in the pot of water, they began to soften, to become something more edible.

The cross and Mayan symbols of healing
With candles, music, and incense, flowers and traditional Mayan cloths and symbols, this healing ceremony was so powerful for everyone.  At the end, we each shared in some freshly made tortillas. You see, each person here needs healing from something. As the creations of God, we know that our Creator can heal us if we surrender to Him and allow him to work the long process of healing in our lives. A major theme this week has been “the process.” What we have all been learning is that, even in the midst of our pain, two things are still true: (1) God can lovingly heal us and (2) God still wants to use us, through our own pain, to come up alongside of others who are hurting.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Guatemala, Day One

I arrived yesterday afternoon in Guatemala City. From the sky, you notice the stark contrasts in the city: the big buildings, fancy stadiums and malls on the one hand, and. on the other hand, thousands and thousands of very poor structures precariously leaning on the sides of mountains. These are the homes of many in Guatemala City. The city has virtually gone through a population explosion, as so many capital cities in the developing world have.

            I am staying at a place called CASAS. It is an international guesthouse, Spanish language school, and home of Central America’s Mennonite seminary. It is located in a quiet, gated community in Zona 11 in Guatemala City. Staying in a gated community is always a little bizarre at the beginning. Due to the increase in crime, CASAS and the families who live on the street decided to build a wall and gates and hire two guards a few years ago. Other than a short walk this morning (to drop Laurel’s daughter off at school half a mile away), this is the only place I have been so far. After the conference ends for the day, we are venturing out for a little adventure. Needless to say, this compound it self is somewhat separated from the desperate poverty of so many in Guatemala.

My friend Laurel and I before starting to facilitate the conference
And yet, it is not that separate at all. As I have begun to interact with the conference participants, I have been touched by their stories of immense personal, familial, and community suffering and violence. The history of war and torture, the present realities of gangs, drug trafficking, family violence, rape, and human trafficking seem to affect everyone here. Today, on the first day of the conference I am co-facilitating, I learned a lot more about the realities of many communities of Central America. Gangs, violence, and grinding poverty are the daily reality of most of the communities where the pastors and leaders at our conference serve. Literally, one person shared that 7 people were executed in the past seven days in the neighborhood where she works. These pastors and leaders experience trauma everyday in their own lives, where they live, serve, and work.

How does the church respond? How do Christian psychologists, lawyers, teachers, and social workers respond? Violence is ripping apart the lives of so many men, women, and children in Central America. But one participant put it in simple terms: poverty is the biggest factor that leads to this extreme violence.

            Our conference participants come from seven different countries (all Central American countries, plus Mexico) and they are all people who work everyday in communities torn apart by violence. They are also individuals whose very own lives have been impacted by violence, abuse, poverty, and other traumas. How do we, as imperfect people with our own difficulties and traumas, effectively accompany victims of violence as they heal and seek restoration in their lives?

            I am so extremely blessed to be here, sharing with these extraordinary people and facilitating learning about very practical ways to help ourselves and others heal from trauma.  Today we shared our motivations and some of the stories that drive us to this work.  For me, the motivation is from Psalm 34:18-
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Of course, I shared the verse in Spanish. That version actually speaks to me even more: “El Senor esta cerca para salvar a los que tienen el Corazon hecho pedazos y han perdido la esperanza.” In my life over the past year, I have repeatedly experienced God's closeness in moments when I was brokenhearted and feeling nearly hopeless. We, as Christians, should likewise draw near to the brokenhearted and to those who have lost their hope. All of us have experienced broken hearts and trauma at some point in our lives- and those experiences of pain help us to know how to draw near. 

            Thank you so much for your prayers and for your support for me while I am in Guatemala. I am so grateful to each of you. Vayan con Dios, y que todos nosotros encuentremos maneras de acercarnos a los que se han perdido la esperanza.  (Go with God, and may we all find ways to draw near to people who have lost their hope). 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Living a life of love

One year ago today, Josh and I were diagnosed with infertility. One year ago, our worlds stopped spinning as the reality sunk in. The reality was that, after a lifetime of longing, praying, and preparing to be a mother, I was facing a diagnosis that said it would likely never happen apart from very costly medical intervention.  So here is my question: how does that circumstance, and all those that followed as we struggled through infertility, loss, and miscarriage this year, line up with the truth that I have been and still am chosen by God for a life of love?

I have been chosen in Christ, called to share His love and shine His light where He has placed me. He has chosen me for a life of love.

I am thinking today about what it means to be chosen. God is very clear in the Bible that He has chosen His children for a specific purpose. He has chosen us to demonstrate and live out a life of love. What does that look like in real life, in the midst of trials and triumphs?

As I sit here, on the other side of one of the most difficult years of my life, I remain certain. I fully believe that God chose me and called me to live life as a missionary for Him, as an example of His love. As a child, He put this passion and desire within my heart. Over the years, through relationships, jobs, church families, and both local and international positions, He has continued to spur me on toward living a life of love. This year was no exception.

Each moment of this year drew me closer to the Lord as we sought His guidance and His presence in our lives. As I have passed through the depths of grief and loss, His love has comforted me and led me on. I have been that little hurting lamb, carried close to the chest of my Loving Shepherd. I have experienced that I have a good, good Father who loves me unfailingly.

During the sadness and difficulty, as friends and family drew near to support us, love us, pray for us, and lift us up with encouragement, I learned something new about my Savior. Sometimes He calls us to sorrow, trials, and pain. I do not believe He would ever plan for our unborn children to die before they ever were born, so that is not what I mean. But I do believe He calls us and allows us to walk paths in life that weave through depths of sorrow, loss, and even despair. Why would He do that?  In these moments of life, He calls us to sacrifice our emotions and fix our eyes on Him. He calls us to choose FAITH when we see nothing physically worth believing in. Who hopes for what is already seen? The only way he can grow and develop in us the precious gifts of faith, hope, and trust is by putting us in places where we see nothing human to fix our hope to.

And so here we are. One year later. We are not yet parents. We are living in temporary housing and do not have a church family yet in Minnesota. There are a lot of unknowns, a whole lot of them. But glimmers of light are shining through. God has truly provided for our every need, sometimes in pretty miraculous ways! We have a roof over our head and good food to eat. Josh and I have each other, and our relationship has grown and deepened tremendously over this year of sadness and transition. I have just been offered two new part time jobs, doing work in the anti-trafficking movement. Josh has begun working as a volunteer attorney with two different programs that serve homeless individuals in the twin cities. 

All of that is good. We still fix our hope on Christ alone as we pray for the children we believe we will one day have. It hurts, I am not going to lie. How I would love to be stable enough right now to do our last IVF cycle or begin the adoption process in Minnesota! How we pray for the miraculous pregnancy we believe is coming one day! God knows our family and who will be in it. God is working His plans in our lives, and we choose to continue to rely on Him and His timing for our family. So we wait patiently on the Lord and experience His mercies everyday.

And almost everyday I am absolutely amazed by the beautiful surprises He has for us! I started out this entry talking about being chosen and called by God. I know that I have been chosen to live a life of love, clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline in the midst of trials and sorrow. But I have also been called live that life of love through missions. My heart overflows as I think about all God has done recently in this part of who I am! I was called to be a missionary when I was only 8 years old, and in each stage of my life God has shown me a bit more of how He wants to use me. He is doing many different beautiful works in my life as a missionary right now!

First, let’s start with the big one: two weeks from tomorrow I leave for Guatemala! God opened this door for me back in December, then urged me to ask for financial support and prayer for the trip online through GoFundMe- and He brought in ALL of my needed finances plus an extra $500 in that first week and a half! It turns out He had a plan for that money: this week I spent that money to change my flights so that I can go to Guatemala sooner. I will be co-leading a week long seminar on healing, empowerment, and restoration from trauma for faith-based leaders with my good friend and former colleague, Laurel. I will get the opportunity to journey with this group as the learn how to most effectively and compassionately walk alongside community members who have been victims of suffering, violence, and abuse, including war and human trafficking. That will be March 14-17. After that, Laurel and her family and I will travel to the mountainous northern part of Guatemala where the recently publicized sexual slavery trials are ongoing and much of the community is ravaged by poverty and mass migration. There, we will write, reflect, and serve for a few days. I am still hoping and praying that I will be able to spend one day encouraging the staff and orphans at an orphanage on Lago Atitlan. We are also hoping for a short visit to nearby Antigua to participate in the Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivities celebrating the passion of Christ. Please pray for my trip to Guatemala from March 13-24. Specifically, I am praying that I will have the strength to live out Christ’s love in all of these circumstances and that people’s hearts will be encouraged and filled with God’s presence.

God also has opened up two different opportunities for me to teach and encourage others about missions. This Sunday, I will be sharing my heart for missions at Faith in Christ Church, in Eagan, MN. This is a tremendous blessing, as our good friends Sam and Sarah just started pastoring this church last month. I also have recently committed to returning to Lake Lundgren Bible Camp this summer (June 13-17) as the camp missionary speaker! What an incredibly rich blessing in my life the last time I served as missionary speaker for several weeks in the summer of 2010. I cannot wait!

God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than all we could ask or imagine! In January of this year I claimed Ephesians 3:20 as a theme verse for our family in 2016. So far, in many amazing ways, God has done greater things than we could have even dreamed possible! In fact, today I paused in writing this entry so that I could go with Josh to drive by a potential apartment. We didn’t like it, but decided to keep driving around St. Paul to look at other neighborhoods. We came to the very first neighborhood we loved in the twin cities… in there was a for rent sign in a perfect location. Long story short: I think we just found our ideal place to live!! Praying the details all work out. 

Finally, one last thought before I wrap this up. This morning in my Becoming More online Bible Study with Proverbs 31 Ministries, I read about my identity in Christ. He has chosen me. I am seen and known by Him. I am treasured and loved by Him. I am forgiven and redeemed.  But here is the thing: He gave me this identity not only to enrich my own life, but to bless, serve, and love others. I love the list of attributes God tells us He has picked out for us and chosen us to live out: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline. The fact of the matter is that all five attributes indeed bless the people we are in relationship with. 

On our wedding day, my mom had the beautiful idea of gathering together with my bridal party and I so that each of them could share a treasured Bible verse or piece of marriage advice, and we could pray together over our marriage. Colossians 3:12-14 were the verses my mother shared with me that day. After listing the attributes we are to put on, the verse conclude by saying: "And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." The day I wed my loving husband was one of the most beautiful, spiritually triumphant and special moments of my entire life. Colossians 3:12-14 set the tone for both our wedding day and our marriage. These verses serve as a daily calling. 

This year, I have learned that the heart of who God chose me to be is the same in both trials and triumphs. Friends, let's use the lives we have been given, no matter the circumstances we presently find ourselves in, to lead lives of love, blessing those around us with love. 

Thank you, as always for journeying with me... and stay tuned for more posts. I plan to put more frequents updates on here while I am in Guatemala in March. And if you are praying or supporting us in any way: a huge thank you from Josh and I!!