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My Own God Story

For the longest time, I really only understood the idea of God doing great works for and through biblical figures.  Somehow it escaped me that He still does amazing works for and through people today… but you know, other people.  I’ve heard some seriously awesome (the word gets thrown around like kids throwing fits in Walmart, but in this case, it is more reverent and appropriate) stories from other people.

Then I started thinking, Why exactly do I feel these things cannot happen to me?  All these biblical figures were just people with a little faith.  The personal stories I’ve heard have come from ordinary people who just happened to exercise some faith.  God actually wants to bless us, but we tend to hold Him back by our own lack of faith in receiving what He has to offer.  Seriously, if God wants to give you something, take it.  Duh!  And yet, many of us often miss it.  Yes, us- I include myself.

This time, I believed and received.  It works! Go figure.

I went on a mission trip to Costa Rica last summer.  It was an eye-opening and wonderful experience, and I saw God in it.  However, when I felt called to go on that trip, Robert had just regained employment and we had fundraised so much for our favorite organization Love 146 before that, we really didn’t feel right reaching out for money from others to help pay my way for the trip, and we took care of about 2/3 of it ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t a pride thing as much as it was that we were grateful for Robert’s job and figured we should give our thanks through this, because we finally could.

This January was the deadline to apply for this summer’s mission trips.  Robert had been so moved through my experience last year that he wanted to go back with me.  This time around, the price went up for individuals and we would have to pay for two instead of one.  And oh, yeah, we were already pretty sure I was going to be leaving the security of my job as a teacher, meaning that by the time the money would all be due (July 1), we would be on the last of that income.  Financially, this would be a stretch.

Then sometimes our plans get changed.  So few people applied for the trip to Costa Rica that it had to be cancelled, but there were openings in one of the trips to Guatemala.  For just a moment I thought it was a way to escape the financial burden and we could bow out gracefully.  But that thought was overridden by the possibility that the plan change was by God’s design and He really just wanted us to go to Guatemala instead, so we agreed to the change.  Good news: this trip was actually a few hundred dollars less per person, so that helped ease my worries, but not much.

I found myself continually stumbling across various pieces of faith literature that just happened to be about having faith to receive, following God’s plan, and believing that He will always provide.  Then one morning while I was getting ready for work, I had an epiphany (that is such a fun word).  I was looking at the “mountain” of not having an extra $3200 in my pocket, instead of telling the mountain to move, which is what we are told to do in Matthew 17:20.  It wasn’t an audible voice, but I felt in that moment that God told me to stop worrying because He was going to move that mountain and that we wouldn’t have to pay a penny.  One other important part of that scripture is that we can’t just think our mountain will move, but we have to tell it to move, so I began to thank God for providing the finances for our trip and I told Robert it would be all taken care of.

We made our list of people to send support request letters, typed them up, and mailed them out.  We were getting a steady flow of donations for a while and it was encouraging.

Then there was a lull.  We had made it just beyond the halfway mark, and then we had nothing else coming in.  Honestly, I began to feel a bit discouraged.  I was grateful for what had been provided, but since it didn’t seem like anything else was coming, I was bummed that we were going to have to put in our own funds after all.  I figured this meant God was going to provide a way for us to come up with that money for ourselves, but I had really hoped to have one of those amazing God stories to tell people about how God had told me the trip would be taken care of and all the money came flowing in.   Now it just seemed that although I was sure we would manage, the story just wouldn’t be as cool, and I wanted a way cool God story… like the ones other people have.

God also wanted me to have a story to tell others, a way to spread the word about how awesome He is and how He still makes amazing things happen today.

Through a friend of Robert’s family, someone I’ve never even met in person and only have the honor of knowing through Facebook, God provided $1800 in a really cool way.  She and her husband had given to their church to help plant a new church, but it just hadn’t worked out and the group had decided to not pursue it any further and each person could request their fair amount to go towards some other charity, and  this couple chose us for their portion.  Not only did we end up with enough money to cover our trip, but God provided beyond what was needed!  And now I have my own really cool God story I can tell people.

Then Robert and I had a conversation about faith just last night.  He was talking about how sometimes we (Christians in general) tend to forget about having faith for the simple little things in life because we focus on those big mountains.  I totally agree with him because I really wanted a way cool God story so that I could tell others about it and they could see His amazingness.   I think in our world we’re so used to needing to have something big to show and impress people that I guess I’m afraid if I tell people about something small like, “Since peanut butter was on sale at Publix I actually stayed within my grocery budget to the penny this month,” they’ll just think, “So what?”  But those little things add up and are just proof that we can trust God for everything from peanut butter to completely paid for mission trips, and so much more (just add your own little to big issues here).

Runner’s High

I’ve been called a pessimist before; however, if that were true, would I be sitting at my computer, writing a blog post about how much I love running while I’m icing my knee because I went running? No.  I have found the positive in a sometimes painful personal sport.

The personal part is what I first learned to appreciate about running. When I run, I think, clear my head, and concentrate on the beauty I am generally surrounded by when I run (I saw a dolphin last weekend as I ran over a bridge over the intracoastal waterway).  I was never a team sport kind of girl.  In fact, I was never a girl who did anything resembling a sport when I grew up, and I despised running…with a passion.

A challenge was thrown out that I run in a crazy 200 mile race (Ragnar Relay) as a fundraiser for my favorite organization that works to fight human trafficking (Love 146).  I weighed that option for a good while before I agreed to rise to the impossible challenge.

At 32, I began running, for the first time in my life.  I worked out already and thought, “How hard could this be?”  I set out one morning to run a mile down our road (which meant another mile back).  I seriously thought it would be do-able.

It was not.

I made it about a quarter of a mile and thought I would die right there on the road behind my house.  I walked then with spurts of running in between.  Pathetically limited and short spurts.  I made it to the end of the road and realized I had to get back.  Grr!  More of the same walking with short running intervals, an encounter with a weird bug that would not leave me alone (I’m not generally an outdoor girl), and the Florida heat and humidity of a June morning all but discouraged me.  Had I not already invested money into the Nikes I found on sale for $20 (I’m cheap), I would have called it off right away.

But I didn’t.

I continued almost every day in a similar manner for the next two weeks until I made it the mile to the end of the road without stopping.  Then I stopped and walked for a reward.  When I began to run again that day, my knee began to hurt in a way I had never felt before.  Research told me it was my IT band.  I had just started and would already have to take some time off.  I just knew I was not meant to be a runner.

I researched how to “fix” the injury and found I needed to do good stretches and work all my leg muscles through cross-training in order to strengthen what doesn’t get used in running.  Ice also helps.

At that time, I felt it was my chance to give up.  Who would have blamed me, right?  I just wasn’t meant to be a runner and it was something better left for those more equipped.  But then I remembered why I had agreed to run in the first place, and I decided to go back out there, into the hot Florida summer’s oppressive humidity, for the kids that could be rescued and protected by my fundraising and awareness efforts.  So in the moment I made that decision, two passions began in my life.

Running got better for me, and though I often get discouraged still, I keep doing it.  Even after I had to take off a few months because I was having issues with my ITB again.  I think about those kids, my health, and now I also get support from our fantastic local running community.  I’ve gotten faster and my endurance has increased.

Now, it isn’t just a personal sport for me anymore.  I try to mix it up by running a few times a week on my own, doing speed work with a group one evening, and then putting in miles with a group early on Sunday mornings.

I feel I’m becoming a more well-rounded runner, and other than the pain I occasionally feel in my ITB, which I’ve learned how to take care of (as long as I put in the time), I love the way I feel when I’m done.  If I run in the morning I feel amazing all day.

I’m learning to give myself personal challenges and not to compare myself to other runners.  I can do the running in community, but it is still a personal endeavor as I am the only one in my head and body.  I can do it physically, if I can just get my brain to believe it too.

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Another cool thing about running is the excitement of races.  I’ve earned medals for just finishing, and even a few prizes for placing in my age group at a few races (1st in my age group at the last race I ran).

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End It

End It

Shine a Light on Slavery. Let’s be in it to END IT.

Stop it BEFORE it Happens

This is the time of year I really kick up my running training for a crazy 200 mile relay race called Ragnar, which has me reminiscing on the past few years:

In November of 2010, my team of twelve ran from Tampa to Daytona Beach and we raised, united with another team of twelve, $2040 for Love 146, an amazing organization that fights human trafficking.

Half my team (6 travel together by van)

January of this year, my team of twelve (some repeats and some newbies) ran from Miami to Key West for the same cause and raised $1020.

Team This is STILL My AWESOME Back

No worries.  I’m not fundraising.  My point here is that now I’m in training mode for my third Ragnar (Miami to Key West again), and it’s weird NOT to be fundraising.  We decided that this time we just wanted to run for fun because the fundraising for a cause  can get stressful, and we just wanted to be ridiculous without worrying about who we are representing this time.  After all, this year our team name is Ragnarrhea, and we are each assuming poop related names for the fun of it (I’m Exrecia).  Classy, I know.

Terrinator after the completion of my last run

The point I’m attempting to make, though I have now beaten around the bush so many times all the branches have been demolished, is that though I am not running for the cause this year, I do not want to forget to remind others of the importance of the cause.

I’ve always been one who cares about justice, and I’ve gotten in trouble on a few occasions for speaking up in a moment of passion, but until a few years ago I really didn’t have a particular cause I believed in, but now I do.  I’ve mentioned it here before, so you may have read about this already and are now yawning.  That’s fine, but I may have some newcomers, and I cannot chance missing the opportunity to create awareness whenever possible.  After all, I am “The Terrinator.”

In June, I wrote what turned out to be my most read blog post, “Human Beings are NOT Commodities.”   For further information on human trafficking, please give it a read.  The long story short is that human trafficking is modern day slavery.

I’ve been reading about and watching videos posted  indicating that our government is recognizing the issue and taking steps to combat this horrible act of inhumanity, which makes me happy.  But the true and basic concept of this is that it is already unconstitutional because of Amendment XIII, and it has been unconstitutional since that amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865!  Slavery is not new, it just wears a new face.

Robert and I recently decided that since abolitionism is a huge passion of ours we wanted to give regularly to the cause.  (It’s no great amount, but if many people gave even a small portion, a large impact could be made.)  When I went to Love 146.org to sign up, I was given the choice for which part of the process we wanted to impact.  My heart really lies with the recovery and rehabilitation of these survivors; however, I instead decided to give regularly to the prevention aspect.  I am both logical and optimistic.  If we can reach out and prevent this from happening, there will be no more need for recovery…eventually.  That’s my goal.

You don’t need to share my passion.  But you should find one of your own then.  It is healthy and human to care, and when you can see even a glimpse of your impact, you will feel fulfilled.  Touching lives is why we exist.

Love 146 is only one of many organizations out there set on extirpating human trafficking.  If you are interested in learning about more, you need do little more than just Google (I love that this is a recognized verb now) human trafficking and research the many organizations on your own.

Human Beings are NOT Commodities

Wrecked.  Anguished.  Destroyed.  Devastated.  Shattered.  Crushed.  Broken.

Normally, putting words together is something I can do fairly easily, but I cannot find words powerful enough to truly express and show my feelings after I watched last night an amazing documentary called Nefarious:Merchant of Souls.  Yes, it is as ominous as it sounds, as this documentary exposes the world of human trafficking for what it really is, and it is aptly named.  No other film ever made me cry as much as this, except maybe The Passion of the Christ.

I wasn’t completely unprepared.  I have been researching this atrocity for a while now.  I knew it would be difficult to watch and know the truth, but I wanted to press on anyway.  At one point in the film, I had to ask my husband to pause it because at that moment, I could not go further emotionally.  They were just finishing up with their journey into Cambodia, and it involved a pair of blood stained pajamas for a girl the age of seven.  SEVEN!  They had been found after a raid, I believe.

Once you know something like this exists, you cannot ignore it, which is why so many people choose to remain ignorant on the matter.  Yes, I said ignorant.  That doesn’t mean people are stupid.  It means they are uneducated in that area, and in this case, by choice.  But this cannot be ignored any longer.  Approximately 27 million people are enslaved around the world today.  About 80% of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation, and an alarming number of them are minors.  In fact, in the US, the average age of children trafficked for sexual exploitation is 13-14.  I’d like to give credit to the source where I got these numbers, but I’ve seen them time and again in the process of my research, from varied sources.

I remember learning about the abolitionist movement which existed before and throughout the Civil War, and I just figured that was history.  After all, it ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, right?  But slavery is more rampant today than it was even during the African slave trade.

Many people don’t want to acknowledge that all the prostitution in the world, both “legalized” and not, is a result of trafficking.  Sure, there are some women who seem to go into the “industry” willingly, but about 95% of them also come from a background of sexual abuse and little to no self worth, which means their vulnerabilities/weaknesses/past injuries were exploited.  Most women are tricked, coerced, or even kidnapped and forced into prostitution because no little girl ever says, “I want to sell my body when I grow up,” and demand from sexual perverts is high.  Human trafficking is the second most lucrative trade in the world.  After all, pimps can sell the same merchandise time and again.

Except they aren’t selling the same merchandise.  No.  Every time that girl, or young woman (or even boy or young man- it is not as common, but does happen) is sold, she loses another part of herself, of her soul.  So she is not ever the same, losing her identity and her value sometimes up to 30 times a day.

Trafficking is like an onion.  It has intricate layers, and it stinks!  Whether it’s legalized or not, if it exists in a country, you can be sure there are payoffs happening to government officials somewhere up the chain.

The first glimpse into this idea I think I ever knew of was in a fictionalized tale I read for my Women in Literature class back in college.  Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller is a fictionalized story of a Korean woman who had been sold by her own sister to be a “Comfort Woman” to Japanese soldiers during WWII.  The conditions were terrible and I was shocked by what I read.  I knew the story was fiction, but it had to be based off some truth, right?  Sometimes I would randomly think back on that.

Then I watched this video by Love 146 in church one Sunday, and it reminded me of that novel, only this was definitely real.

http://love146.org/love-story

Since then I slowly began to research this modern day slavery.  I even was part of a 200 mile running relay race where my team decided to use the race to raise awareness and funding for Love 146.  My husband and I began to feel compelled by God towards doing more, but we haven’t really known what or how to do anything.  The mission trip I am about to embark on to Costa Rica will be a chance for me to work with the Rahab Foundation, an organization helping survivors from the sex trade to recover and rebuild their lives.

Like I said, I’ve felt for a while now that there is a future for me in this fight somewhere, alongside my husband.  But when I watched that documentary last night, all the little questions and doubts I had been having about whether it was a real calling or not completely left me, to the point where I could almost physically feel it (yeah, I know that’s weird).  I know that I cannot imagine myself doing anything else with the rest of my life but helping to put an end to this worldwide crime and to do what I can to work with these girls and women and to give them hope…

to give them God…

to share with them my favorite scripture… Jeremiah 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (NIV)

One of the women in the film who had been prostituted, but was rebuilding her life mentioned something about being a princess because her father is God, the King of kings.  The only way most of these women can ever get out of the mindset they have been put into is to have hope, and for most of them the only place they can find hope that deep is through Jesus.  Maybe you think that’s just a bunch of crazy religious fanatical stuff, but why is it people always have the instinct, whether they think they believe in God or not, to cry out to Him in their times of need?

If you want to learn more about this topic, there are countless organizations out there dedicated to this cause, including the ones I linked to already.  Please find one close to you and see if you can help.  Also, if this inspires you at all, please share it.  We need to raise up an army of abolitionists who will fight for those who currently have no voice.  Each of these “victims” or “survivors” has a story.  Each is a living, breathing, feeling person who should have hopes and dreams.  What gives any one person the right to put any other human being through something so inhumane?

Let Freedom Ring!

It’s been some time since I have felt compelled to contribute my “voice” to cyberspace, but I’ve been ruminating on much: my future, human trafficking, serving people and God.  How can all of these ideas coexist?  A better question may be, how can these ideas not exist together for me? Many of the thoughts I have been pondering will remain deep in the caverns of my mind for a bit longer, though I will expound on my recent thoughts on the atrocity of human trafficking: the imprisonment of human beings against their will for the purposes of trade and profit.

Last Sunday was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and this Monday many of us get to enjoy a day off from work to celebrate President’s Day. President Lincoln remains one of the favorite presidents among many, even to this day.  Talk about being a president up against hard times!  Yet he was able to reunite our nation (which is a good thing since other countries were waiting and hoping our young republic would fail even then) and end slavery in the United States, neither of which was a small or easy task. Yeah, he’s one of my heroes. The cool hat is just a bonus.  However… I cannot help but imagine Lincoln would feel heartbroken to learn that slavery still exists, not just in other areas of the world, but IN OUR OWN COUNTRY as well.

Then I also think of William Wilberforce, who spent his life working to abolish the African-British slave trade. Just three days before he died, he was informed of the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, and he was able to die with the peace that his life’s work had not been in vain.  Though I cannot help but imagine Wilberforce would feel demoralized if he learned that worldwide slavery still exists.  In fact, there are an estimated  27 million people enslaved today, which is more than double the number of Africans enslaved during the entire Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

People unwittingly believe that slavery no longer exists, or they feel it is happening in remote areas of the world, and so they care little about the matter.  If people are ignorant to this activity it is because those of us who do know need to keep spreading the word and make people aware.  Creating the awareness is the first step to take in order to make a difference.  But for those who do know yet choose to ignore it or to believe whatever is happening in remote parts of the world is of no concern to them, they are just as guilty as those who actually shackle other human beings.

In my efforts to educate people on the matter of human trafficking and modern day slavery, I actually have had people ask me not to tell them about it because it’s awful and they didn’t want to know something that bad exists.  Why not?  Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away! Should we behave like ostriches and stick out heads in the sand?  Facing it head on, spreading the word, and working to abolish slavery in all its evil facets is the ONLY way it will end.  Otherwise we’re just big stupid birds with our butts in the air.  If this makes you angry, good.  Get angry.  Get downright furious… and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”  Albert Einstein

My husband and I watched Taken starring Liam Neeson last night.  I know as a Christian that I am not really supposed to promote violence, but I have to confess that I enjoyed the idea of these evil people involved in forcing unsuspecting young women into prostitution “getting what they deserved.” Sure, the movie is fictional, but there is truth in it too.  This sort of thing truly does exist and it makes me angry.  Most often it is in a similar form to that of what takes place in the movie, but young children are also sold, kidnapped, and forced into it as well.  In fact, up the 1.2 million of these victims are children, some of them as young as six years old!  At this point, angry seems a weak word, but whatever it is, it is a righteous anger.  God wants us to be angry at injustices because we should not accept them; we need to find ways to stop them.  This doesn’t mean we become vigilantes, but we can certainly start by informing others of these injustices and contributing in whatever ways we feel we can to prevent, to rescue, and to rehabilitate.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get JUSTICE.” Proverbs 31:8-9

Here are some of the groups I know of that are fighting against human trafficking. There are more of them out there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-VC8AUE3Bc   Nefarious: Merchant of Souls trailer

Love 146

FIGHT (Fight Injustice and Global Human Trafficking)

Somaly Mam Foundation

Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking

Team This is STILL my AWESOME back

A Human Trafficking Jam

Christmas is my favorite time of year (cliche, I know); the reasons for this joy have changed over the years as I’ve grown up and come to realize what is really important in this life I’ve been blessed to live. It was once about getting gifts.  Then it was about getting the perfect gifts for others.  Last year my husband was unemployed and we opted out of gifts altogether, a choice which opened my eyes and heart in a new way.  Perhaps I’d lost sight, or never had it in the first place, of the TRUE meaning of Christmas.  A savior was born with the full intention of dying as the ultimate sacrifice for a lost world that continually turns its back on Him.

Now that is LOVE!

So it is with this in mind that I go forward.  Christmas is about salvation… for everyone.

Some time back I prayed that God would “break my heart for what breaks [His],” and he’s been doing it over and over again.  The further I research human trafficking as I get ready to run another 200 mile relay with some friends to help fight this atrocity, the more my heart breaks, and the angrier I become that more people aren’t doing anything to stop it.  Doesn’t anyone care?  There are 27 million people around the world right now who need SALVATION from slavery.  Many are children, and for them my heart breaks the most.  We are to stand up for the orphans, the widows, the poverty-stricken…and those who cannot stand up for themselves.

I’ve recently become frustrated.  As our race comes closer (Ragnar Relay FL Keys, Jan 6-7), our fundraising meter continues to stay at about 12-13% of our goal.  I guess it’s a bad time of year to ask for donations.  Money is tight for many these days and their families are the priority for Christmas spending.  I get that, but just wish everyone could set aside just a tiny bit to give these children the gift of freedom, even donating in the name of a loved one perhaps.  I think the problem is that Christmas has become so commercialized that many have forgotten that SALVATION and SACRIFICE are the true meaning of this beautiful holiday.  It’s sad.

I have little money to give (right now anyway), so I understand that side of the issue.  But there is hope.  Though little money has come in yet for our cause (Love 146), we’ve managed to get the word out about human trafficking, and creating awareness is the first step.  When people find out about this race and why I’m running it, I get a chance to answer a lot of questions.  Maybe when people do have money again, they will remember the 27 million slaves and help us free them, just as Jesus came to free us from our bondage. I’d love to do more… like hold each of those little children suffering at the hands of sick child molesters, and tell them that no matter what has happened in their lives, God loves them, and so do I.  But until then, I will continue to spread awareness and work towards a human trafficking jam (abolishing slavery) in the only ways I can.

Several years ago, Jewel put out a Christmas album, and her song “Hands” was on it.  It isn’t a traditional Christmas song, but it seems to capture what I believe God wants us to understand about Christmas.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk0bKfC8XSE

If you are interested in giving to our cause:

http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/robert-harper/love146rr