There is a call to prayer that broadcasts from outside my window. Generally it comes about three times a day. You can’t miss it.
It goes like this: First, you hear the pained but incoherent words of an older gentleman – intoxicated, unwell. He is my neighbor. We’ve passed each other on the street, but I’ve never been able to find out his name. The words get louder. Then they culminate to the loud and anguished wail, “Oh, God!”
I don’t know what to do with a cry like this. No matter the inducement, it obviously comes from a place of deep, deep pain. We’ve done what we could to reach out to this neighbor. When friendliness failed, we called the non-emergency police line and asked for a welfare check. Some would say he does not want help; I would argue that the help he needs is not available. Either way, it does not feel like enough. And every day, when I hear his voice in the same inflection, “Oh, God!”, I find my heart responding, Hear our prayer. Like the voice crying in the wilderness, like the anguished prophets of old, like the prayer of all the desperate blind and lame. Lord, have mercy.
Last night, shortly after one of these calls to prayer, we read Psalm 31 aloud. The first six verses are very familiar to me, as we pray them before bed several times a week. But when we reached verse ten, I immediately saw in my mind’s eye the face of this neighbor. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble. As we continued, I could almost hear his voice reading aloud with me. I have become a reproof…among my neighbors; my acquaintances are afraid of me, and those who see me in the street shrink from me.
Then suddenly, it shifted. I became filled with the sudden realization that this was Christ’s psalm, that He was praying it along with me, and through me, that it was His voice who identified with this suffering. And in a flash I saw that this meant that my neighbor was showing me the face of Christ.
Who am I, after all I read of the ways God works in the world, to doubt that this neighbor of mine is closer to the heart of Christ than I will ever be? Who am I, after claiming to follow a Savior who was “despised and rejected by men,” who had “no place to lay his head,” to fail to see the image of this Savior who is before my very eyes?
Instead, with Christ, I will pray these words over both of us: My help has been in you, O Lord; I have said, “You are my God.” … save me for your mercy’s sake.
Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon you.
Fourteen years ago, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
Fourteen years ago, I first learned about sex trafficking in Southeast Asia (and then, all over the world). This was where I first came in contact with a team headed over to do missions work in Thailand. When I first said that someday, somehow, that would be my life, too.
Over the next 8 years, I continued dreaming of making it there someday. I watched several friends visit and show me pictures of this beautiful country. I made actual plans to arrive there more than once. Looking back, I think this dream of “Thailand” was the only tangible thing I could grasp onto that represented my desire to see the world, do exciting things, make a difference, be involved in justice. But instead, my husband and I were given the opportunity to travel and study in Amsterdam for three months. This had never been in my “plan”–and yet it fit so much better into preparing and training me for actual work right here in my hometown.
I love that God can redirect the desires of our hearts so gently and perfectly. Often our current dreams are only a seed of the bigger desires He has placed inside us. After our time in Amsterdam, I set the dream of Thailand aside. And yet, I still carried an incredibly tender spot for the country in my heart.
I am where I am because of this dream. It was the dream of Thailand that led me to Amsterdam; it was the time in Amsterdam that led me to my work with Loom. I can’t think of any job I’d rather be a part of than working with local leaders in caring for the most vulnerable around the world. Which is why, when I had the opportunity to travel with Loom for a training in Thailand this October, I felt this incredible nudge in my soul. Things were coming full circle. I just had to show up and see what God was going to teach me next.
Part of me wondered – when I arrived, would I feel a renewed sense of passion to join anti-trafficking work in Thailand again? Would I hear a new call? Would I want to stay?
I landed in Thailand with the sense that I was on a pilgrimage, with no idea what I was seeking. What I did know, is that I was there to learn, to connect, and to receive. As part of the global World Without Orphans Forum, Loom was hosting a two-day pre-summit intensive training called Next Steps: Critical Interventions for Working with Children at Risk. It was incredible to sit in the room with leaders from around the world who shared a passion for preventing the vulnerabilities that lead to trafficking, abuse, and exploitation.
This was the first official launch of our new curriculum, which meant that all the preparation for each day of training kept me very busy. But on the last day, as we all transitioned to being a part of the full gathering, I loved getting to sit longer with leaders and hear their stories and struggles. 700 leaders from over 70 nations were here to discuss how we could partner together to protect children, and I felt so privileged to be a part of it.
“Mostly we have been reactive and issues-based” when caring for vulnerable children, commented Rebecca Nhep, Senior Technical Advisor at Better Care Network, “Something needs to shift, [to] ground our decision-making in the needs of the systems.” Collaboration and interdependence understands that we all have a place in addressing a “gap” of the system – and that we don’t need to each reinvent the wheel and try to do everything.
During my time there I met leaders running children’s homes, foster care programs, training programs, advocacy in law and justice, foundations, media advocacy, and much more. I sat in workshops led by a partner of ours in India, Anu Silas, and those using media and communications to tell stories of truth and dignity. It was encouraging to be there on behalf of Loom, and see how hungry leaders are for true partnership and collaboration. Out of this time, new and stronger partnerships are emerging between Loom and organizations around the world. We hope to see some of our new friends again in East Africa and beyond!
Like I said, I went into this week of trainings, meetings, and connecting wondering if I would sense a new leading in my spirit from God. What really happened is that I did receive a “call” – but it was a recalling back to my first love, not to my first dream. He reminded me that my first calling is always following Him, and helping people understand their value as made in His image. Over and over again throughout the week, I found myself simply in awe of God’s beauty, love, and creativity in all He is doing in the world. Surrounded by leaders from so many nations reminded me of what a small part I play in a much larger tapestry. The Spirit is vibrantly present everywhere, and I can rejoice in my insignificance in simply getting to witness a piece of how He is working around the world.
It is stirring to arrive
And find you already here.
The sign of the dove encircling
Hill and endless hills
Sky and endless sky
And you, endless you:
There is no time you do not
Go before me;
There is nowhere you are not
Gently weaving grace into the world.
I came here with nothing
But what You had already given.
All the journeys I have taken
have been the map to here:
a pilgrimage with no relic,
a destination with no ending
a glimpse into the bountiful everness of You.
After the Forum, I had the huge privilege of staying in Thailand for another four days, hiking in the national parks with my best friend Kimberly. We soaked in so much beauty, ate delicious street food, and wandered the old city. But my favorite moment by far was our last night there, visiting the Karen Leadership Development Program and worshiping with a circle of kind, talented emerging leaders. Once again, I was reminded of how little I was needed there, in Thailand – and how grateful I am to be part of the global church, this diversely stunning body of Christ.
What was I seeking on this pilgrimage? I was seeking Him.
For everywhere I arrive, He is already present.
I would like to make the case for beauty.
Here is my manifesto: Beauty inherently inspires us to live more beautifully. The truest things in the world are also the most beautiful. Beauty, truth, and goodness – these three are always inextricably linked together, or else each is incomplete.
The poet John O’Donohue speaks rightly that “an awful lot of urban planning, particularly in poor areas, has doubly impoverished the poor by the ugliness which surrounds them. And it’s understandable that it’s so difficult to reach and sustain gentleness there.” Unjust as it is, there is a reason nobody wants to live in certain areas of town. In fact, recent studies have shown that an increase in green space in cities statistically lowers crime. Continue reading
How can I explain what the last few weeks have been like?
In the month of February I had the privilege to meet local leaders who have become my heroes. I have been reminded of what it means to welcome and be welcomed; to value honor and hospitality; to life a life of service in ways both big and small. They humble me and teach me and inspire me.
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
― The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Happy 2019 everyone!
As the year comes to a close, I always enjoy looking back on all the amazing books I’ve had the privilege to read this year. I continue to be amazed at how much rich literature I can get through my local library – in fact, if I didn’t read a book I said I would read last year, it’s likely because I had to pay for it.
As always, here are my top books of 2018 (and yes, Guernsey made the list – barely): Continue reading
I’ve never thought of myself as a powerful person. Or even a person who is tempted by power. Perhaps this is because I’ve never seen myself as much of a leader — I’d much rather be the support squad .
But what is power? Often we equate power with leadership or authority — a big presence, someone who can call the shots. But at its core, power is simply the capacity to affect reality. Who doesn’t want that? Continue reading
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wished to be part of a culture rich with tradition and weekly rituals like the Sabbath prayers or traditional dances. I was hungry for a way of living that felt more embodied and yet transcendent.
More than this, I craved holy words. When I looked out across the Alps, listened to a hurting friend, or walked in my neighborhood in the glory of a spring day, I longed for a prayer to rise to my lips that fit a moment like this.
I was looking for a liturgy. Continue reading
Lots of dear friends have been asking me what my biggest takeaways are from my time in Africa. In response, I feel lost for words, only able to come up with, “It just felt so..well…normal, and such an honor to be there.”
My fifteen year old self would have come away saying something like, “After seeing people with so little, I realized how blessed I truly am.” But this time, I thought back to the people I met who were rich in love, who knew how to laugh at themselves and stand tall with dignity, who were creative and kind and resourceful, and I just thought, “I wish you could meet them too.” Continue reading
I’ve heard so much about the beauty and magic of Africa. So when my work with Loom International gave me the opportunity to spend a week in Tanzania, I was excited to see it for the first time. Continue reading