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How to Be Thankful

Three years ago, I should have been in a dark place. Maybe I was actually in a dark place, but there was a light in the darkness.  And light overcomes darkness. As long as I knew the light was there, even if it seemed dim, I knew I could go on.

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2015 started with a startling surprise that left me questioning my life and marriage and set us up financially to lose everything.  Only by God’s grace did we make it through that, and without once failing to pay a major bill or even damaging our credit. I won’t go into details, but none of it made any sense on paper. It was truly a miracle. Then as the year came to a close, we found out we would lose the little girl who had been the biggest part of the light we’d had through all that. The girl we had never known we needed, and now didn’t know how we could could live without, would be taken from us. And if we weren’t careful, we may never see her again.

I was living through a nightmare, so deep in stress and heartache I sometimes had trouble breathing, and I was on the verge of tears at all times. Nothing in my life had ever felt so difficult before. I can’t even remember all the details anymore- maybe I blocked them out- but I know we faced car issues, emergencies around the house, and any number of financial and emotional surprises during this time that made me feel like I was down and getting kicked in the ribs every time I struggled to get up.

But then I took a look at all we had made it through and all the people who had been there to love and support us. I began to actually see where God had been, even in the middle of the worst year of my life. I could not make it through this on my own. I knew that. I just wasn’t strong enough in my own power.

And that’s ok. I wasn’t supposed to be. God wasn’t bringing these things into my life and standing above me laughing. He was allowing them because He knew I would reach out to Him in this time and that He would be the strength I needed to make it through. Even as some new calamity would strike, it always seemed there was something equally good that would happen, often in unexpected ways. He was letting me know He was there, and though I could not see why I was experiencing these hurts or how they would turn out, He had the big picture and was making it all work for my good.  I even began laughing when disaster would strike. What else could I do?

I prayed so hard for our girl to stay with us, but in the middle of 2016, she had to leave. We had done all we could to prepare for that, but I had still been in denial. I thought God would come in with some crazy miracle at the last minute. He didn’t. I was angry about that at first. I couldn’t understand, and still often don’t, how her new situation was a better place for her. But maybe that’s not what it’s about. She loves God, and maybe she needs to learn how to trust Him in the difficult times too. Maybe this is the building of her character, because while I was praying for God to make a way for her to stay with us, I also prayed that if that was not part of His plan, that she would be given the strength she needed and it would make her a better person. It is also a reminder that though she had been placed with us for a time, and we cared for her as our own, ultimately, she is a child of God and He will care for her. I had to give her to Him in that time.

It has been hard. The blessing is that we do still get to be part of her life and she spends every other weekend, and some extra time here and there, with us. To others, she refers to us as her aunt and uncle, but when she’s with us, we are still Mommy and Daddy, and I think it will always be that way. She has been out of our direct care now longer than she was with us, but the bond remains. It’s hard having her less than part time. Our lives had to “go back to normal” to some extent, so weekends with her turn our routines and our “normal” upside down. The disruption can be difficult emotionally, because our lives are on hold at those times… but having that time is precious. She’s still a light. She is our sunshine.

If it had been up to me, I would have wanted to eventually adopt her and to never have experienced most of 2015 and 2016, but then I would not have been able to grow. Neither would she, or my husband. It was awful, and we are still in a constant state of recovery from all of it, but we were blessed through it too.

I’ve realized that bad things happen to everybody. Some people just dwell on the bad more than others. Perspective and optimism go a long way. Everything I went through in that time changed my overall perspective and helped me find HOPE. Sometimes I still have to react emotionally, and even cry it out. But then I remind myself to look to God and all that He has done to take care of us.

Romans 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

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Perspective

Birds are known for their symbolism in literature.

In my warped world, I find myself humming Bob Marley and then internally reciting lines from Poe all in the same day, and for no reason.

My point?

I don’t really know. I just realized an illustration of perspective, I guess, and probably a difference in the drugs they each used.

Poe's bird

Poe’s bird

Marley's happy little birds

Marley’s happy little birds

Perspective.

How Words Shape Our Perspectives

Words hold power.  We all know we’re not supposed to judge someone on appearances, so maybe we listen to someone else speak of that person, or we read about that person.  The thing is, the connotations of words still shape and color a picture in our minds.  Connotations are the emotions and nuances of words, and the English language is a tricky one that way.  A good writer knows he or she can effectively craft a character this way, and so many other points.  The problem with this is being careless with our words and creating the wrong impression.

My intention today, however, is not to give a writing or English lesson.  My intention is to nudge people to think more carefully about words already used out there and to dig beyond the words to the people the words are about.  Never judge solely on appearances or words because words can be tainted, whether intentional or not.  Keep this in mind while watching and reading the news.

Judge with your heart.

A little something I used to do to help my students understand the importance of connotation and word choice was to list some words and have them put them in order of weakest to strongest or good to bad (if I gave them a full spectrum of words) .

An example:

furious, mad, upset, miffed, enraged, angry

The result would be close to this:

upset, mad, angry, furious, enraged, and “what is miffed?”

Forget miffed.  At that point we would have had a talk about slang words and how they change from generation to generation.  It’s irrelevant here. I’m just making sure you’re still paying attention.

If I gave you a list of words to describe a person and asked you to put them in order of your personal feelings towards him or her from sympathetic to unsympathetic, what order would you put these words into?

prostitute, trafficking victim, hooker, exploited child

Your list would most likely look something like this:

exploited child, trafficking victim, prostitute, hooker

Explanation:  People tend to feel automatic sympathy toward a child; trafficking victims sound like they can be any age, and our minds would automatically want to think they were not children; prostitute sounds maybe just a little better than a hooker who is obviously lower class

Something like all that, right?

What if I said all those choices are descriptions of the same person?  Oftentimes a child becomes a victim of trafficking, and is then exploited for years as a prostitute, and because most people automatically assume a prostitute has no morals, it becomes fairly easy to tack on the stigma of the word hooker.

The problem with this is that very few children desire to grow up to sell their bodies.  They want to be doctors, veterinarians, singers, firefighters, or astronauts.  Few people would ever make such a choice.  They are either forced into it, or their weaknesses are exploited.  Most of them want out of such a lifestyle but are either trapped physically by literal chains and locks, guns, or drug dependence or in bondage by emotional chains of helplessness, dependence, self-loathing, or fear.

When we begin to think of these people as individuals instead of classifying them all the same we see them as daughters, sons, siblings, and friends who just want love and acceptance, and most likely a new life.

Human trafficking does not just cover those who are tricked, sold or kidnapped and forced to work in fields or brothels for little to no wages, but any person who becomes a commodity.  If we consider this properly, they are all exploited and they are all victims, even if we don’t see the chains that bind them.  30 million people around the world are enslaved in some way today.  Right now. In this very moment.

According to the Not For Sale Campaign

Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence, to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away.

Let’s all help to empower them to go beyond being victims to becoming survivors.  We need to change our perspectives and to reach out in love and show them dignity.