Finding the Beautiful in the Ordinary

Tea Anyone?

I’m just plugging away at life.

Nothing extraordinary or exciting to report.

But–oh–life is so sweet and beautiful at this moment, exactly where I am! Some things are smaller–like my immediate circle of friends–somethings are harder–like balancing work, school and IJM responsibilities–and some things are crazy–like the fact that I’m an aunt all over and again and that I’m traveling to the Philippines in two months.

I’ll be honest: being present is a struggle. Especially after tasting life in DC. Especially after spending a summer–and now the fall–working a part time communication internship. Especially when many of my friends and work and leadership responsibilities are everywhere but in Boone. Especially when I am so eager and excited for the next stage of life.

BUT… that is not where I am called right now. I’m called to small acts of faithfulness in familiar places. A friend reminded me of Jim Elliot’s quote:

Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.

Another reminded me that being present, like anything else, takes discipline. It takes putting one foot in front of the other and walking the path you agreed to walk with God.

I like to see end results. I am impatient when I write, paint, read, work, study, or employ myself in any activity that creates a product. That translates easily into other aspects of life, too. I get so caught up in trying to get things done, that I forget half the joy comes in appreciating the process. I don’t want to live life that way–I want to learn to enjoy every single stage and aspect of life, even if I’m waiting or working towards the next one.

I’m starting with my classes. I asked the Lord to give me joy in the mundane and see beauty in the small things. Here’s a few I love:

  • Client meetings with the Solar Decathalon PR team every Friday. I get to dress up, arrive with an agenda and list of questions, and learn learn learn so much about how to utilize social media, create and sustain campaigns, and work with a variety of personalities.
  • Staying up late in the evenings to study with my roommates. We put on classical music, brew some tea, and institute 40 minutes of silence followed by 5 minute Youtube breaks. Kid President is one of our faves.
  • African dance every Tuesday/Thursday. I’m horrible, but by golly, I’m learning to branch out, be confident, and laugh laugh laugh at how fun it is.
  • Answering emails. I know it’s such a small thing, but since “through words we build our world” I enjoy taking a few creative moments to craft responses.
  • Blogging (nearly) every Friday. Regularity is good for the soul.
  • Driving back from school in the evenings and viewing my mountain from 421. It’s so majestic and beautiful.

We all live busy lives. How easy it would be to cover our ears, close our eyes, and numb our senses to the world around us. How easy it would be to live so much in the desire for tomorrow that we forget to live today. But I’m not called to what is easy.

So that’s what I’m working on.
Here is where I am.
Here is where I want to be.
I’m excited for what’s next. 
I’m loving what is right now. 

A Morning with Jesus

WanderI sit on the banks of Watauga River, reposing on a very old quilt. It is early morning, but the sky is dark and foreboding, hinting at storms ahead. The water trickles over stones at an ever increasing pace that is soothing and refreshing to hear. The tranquility of the moment would be complete only if the gnats and mosquitos of unusually large size would leave me alone.

I’m in Valle Crucis, the loveliest of places in these mountains. Its name is apt for my morning–it means Valley of the Cross. I’m here to be alone with Jesus and sit at His feet. When I woke up, I put on a dress and wore perfume just for Him.

It has begun to rain, but beneath this tall oak with its willowing branches thick with leaves, I am safe and dry. An elder gentlemen passes by, binoculars and safari hat in hand. He is lost to the world, scouring the fields and trees for birds, unaware of the gentle rain or of the girl sitting beside the stream watching him in fascination.

It’s necessary at times to find a respite for your soul amidst the chaos of life. It’s necessary to bring everything before the Lord and have time to think, process, pray, write, and sing. Your vision gets blurry and your clarity gets lost. It’s easy to forget what really matters. We get so caught up trying to figure out who we are that we lose sight of whose we are.

I saved all my bulletins from Capitol Hill Baptist Church this summer because a friend told me how he would read through the hymns throughout the week and drink in the rich theology. I haven’t done so in a while, but it is true that there is an absolute feast of sound doctrine to be found in the lyrics of the old hymnists.

I found this treasure this morning:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
[God Moves in a Mysterious Way, William Cowper, 1731-1800]

When I lived at home in Cary, I would trek to the Dragon Park to sit beneath the vine canopy with my bagel and coffee from Panera and pour out my heart to the Lord. I’m older now, but I still so desperately need those sweet, uninterrupted times with Jesus. I need fresh courage for the year ahead. I need wisdom for decisions that must be made. I need to be reminded of the Cross and that I must die daily to follow Christ.

I wade across the stream, clutching at the folds of my dress to keep it from getting wet and teetering dangerously as I struggle to keep my balance on the rocky bottom. There are excellent smooth, flat pebbles to skip, which I do happily (though not too successfully) for 10 minutes or so. I scramble back onto the rocky shore and sit on my quilt once more. I ignore the score of red welts forming on my legs from those pesky mosquitos. I open my Bible, sip my coffee, and pray Jesus would come sit with me today.

Because freedom begins in your soul

But AskThis week, as I struggled through what I was going to write about, I was reminded of the things the Lord has been teaching me about prayer, spiritual growth, and how those things tie into both everyday life and the work of seeking justice.

During North Star, Bill Clark, the Senior Vice President of Mobilization Strategy at IJM, gave a talk on spiritual formation for the work of justice. While the time that he spent talking was incredibly short in comparison to the rest of the conference, it has profoundly influenced the way I approach the Lord.

The secret, if you will, to producing spiritual fruit is abiding in Jesus:

 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. [John 15:4, ESV]

Spiritual disciplines are a reminder that we are desperate for God’s help. To abide in Jesus, we are called to “be still and know [he] is God [Psalm 46:10].” Clark told us to cultivate a heart of stillness. Here’s how he prescribed that to look on a daily basis:

  • Release things to God: In Matthew 11, Jesus calls us to give Him our burdens. With palms down before us, we surrender our burdens, releasing their load onto His shoulders.
  • Ask God for what you need today: Ask for His help, palms up, surrendered and asking.
  • Still your heart to be in God’s presence by meditating on His word.

In Deepening the Soul for Justice, Bethany Hoang says,

Pray through and release to God all that weighs us down as we enter and try to engage in this work [of justice]. We release and in so doing, we receive…[it] is a declaration that it is God alone who reigns supreme in this day… God meets me in the stopping, in the stillness, in my frantic restlessness and anxiety about all of my work. God draws me closer to himself.

Where do you find yourself stuck in life? Where are you striving but getting nowhere? Ask God to show you where He is serving you in that particular area. Don’t tell God how to answer your prayers or fix the situation, but expect Him to show up. Our God is for us and with us. We can be sure He’ll answer us according to His wisdom. You have but to ask and He will fight for you.

A Hard & Worthy Thing

It’s easy to be passionate.
It’s easy to be passionate about a cause.
It’s easy to be passionate about a cause when it’s cool to be passionate about a cause.

And then reality hits.
And you’re left wondering what on earth you got yourself into.
And you think maybe this passion for a cause isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
And you think about quitting because it’s hard.

So here’s the truth: short bursts of emotion rarely have long-lasting effect (thank you, Greg Darley) . Think about the motivation you feel at the beginning of a new year to accomplish new goals. Take a look at your life right now: how many of those have you kept? Think about how excited you are to meet new people, until the reality of their messy, complicated lives begins to intertwine with your own and you kind of give up on them. Think about every project you’ve begun with zeal, then tucked away in a closet to gather cobwebs when it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to the first time.

I think we approach causes the same way. We put in a little passion, a little effort, shake it together, and we expect–VOILA– results to pop out immediately.

Why should we think causes are any different from anything else in life?

Things that last are usually long, slow, drawn out, and boring. Yes, that’s what I said. Boring. Let’s review history for a moment:

e675f02651dacd5bd639796b5cd76a3fThe abolition movement in England took men and women like William Wilberforce, Hannah Moore, and Charles Middleton 24 years (1783-1807) before the Slave Trade Act was passed on 25 March 1807.

The Civil Rights Movement to end racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans took approximately 18 years (1950-1968) and was brought about by the tireless efforts of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, and thousands of unnamed abolitionists.

It’s easy to look back and romanticize something you didn’t live through. It’s easy to think that the people living through these movements knew the outcome and the victory, enabling them to rally and push through to the end. It’s easy to think it wasn’t hard for them.

But while we see the big picture, they were caught in the details of the nitty-gritty, everyday, mundane work of abolition. While we see the success of their labors and the accolades of thousands inspired by them, they saw their countless failures, rejections, and humiliations. While we see a romanticized view of the tasks and roles they played to make a difference, they saw the thankless, hard work that felt at times to be a futile effort.

Maybe this will seem discouraging to some of you, but I find it to be the most frightfully encouraging thing you could tell me! You mean that someone else who was part of such a big movement felt exactly the way I feel? You mean that people who accomplished something grand that people still talk about today felt discouraged and frustrated? They are just like me.

Sometimes God gives us things that seem too big to handle. Things like Abortion. Things like Prostitution. Things like Human Trafficking.  Then God takes a common, ordinary person–like you, like me–who sees what others do not see, cares about what others don’t care about. It seems like a huge monster to tackle, and it seems impossible to defeat it. But we do something about it. Why? Because we see that it’s a worthy cause.

At North Star, a conference International Justice Mission (IJM) held for student leaders, Louie Giglio talked about vision. He said that vision is like a seed you plant in the hope to end slavery. Everything that follows after that–the other 99%–is a life of sacrifice.

That’s a harsh reality.

But suddenly the fight stops being about you–about being defined by the thing you’re passionate about–about this innate desire to make your mark in the world– about leaving some grand and glorious legacy. Fighting for a cause isn’t about you. Fighting for a cause isn’t about making yourself look good, because you won’t. You’ll look like a fool to the world.

Fighting for a cause is really about fighting for people. Unborn babies. Women abused and exploited. Children beaten. Men thrown in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. But you plant the vision and you labor out of a love that overcomes fear. A love that conquers the monotony. A love we can only have when we’ve been loved by Jesus.

I can’t remember who said it, but I was once told that God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called. I’ve been called to be an abolitionist. That’s not something I necessarily chose for myself, but it’s the place where the world’s deep need and my passions collided together. I don’t know what that looks for me in the long haul, but right now I’m called to lead students. To empower and equip them in this long fight for justice. It means a lot of thankless, monotonous tasks. It means stepping out of my comfort zone. It means sacrificing time and energy for people I may never meet on this earth. But I’m all in.

This fight is a hard thing. This fight is a worthy thing. I’ll keep on fighting.

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. [1 John 3:17618]

Dream

Lists: For the Overachiever in us all

If there is anything I excel at, its writing lists. Which makes me sound like I’m way more productive than I actually am. Exhibit A: All of the post-it notes are lists. ListsTo do lists. Things to remember lists. Books to read lists. People to pray for lists. Who to be like lists. Life goals lists. Artistic endeavors list. The list goes on and on…

This article from NPR explains why people like me love lists:

1) Lists bring order to chaos: If you have ever seen my room in the middle of school week, you will understand why this is necessary. My sincerest apologies, dearest Sarah!

2) Lists help us remember things: As a child, my parents would say I was in “LaLa Land” because seldom could I enter a room on an errand without getting distracted and forgetting why I was there in the first place.This phase lasted into my teen years. I can neither confirm nor deny allegations that I still slip into LaLa Land on occasion.

3) Most lists are finite: Meaning they end at some point. How comforting.

4) Lists can be meaningful: Hmm. Debatable. Current lists in my journal: Resolutions; Lists 2Goals Fall 2013 (with illustrations); Professional Wardrobe Essentials (with illustrations); Personal Improvement; Book List 2013-14; Who I Want to Be; Questions to Ask Self; Things to Learn; Scripture to Memorize; Being Frugal; Fall Bible Reading Plan; etc. (I’m actually appalled at how many lists are in my summer journal alone)

5) Lists can be as long or short as necessary: In example, I have two Goals lists for the Fall. The first sums up the entire second in a few short lines: Be intentional, be fearless, Be a good steward, Love selflessly. The second fills two pages with practical application.

6) Making lists can help make you famous: Notable list makers include Thomas Jefferson, Earnest Hemingway, Martha Stewart, & Mark Twain. Does this mean I can become famous by virtue of my list-making abilities? What a thought.

8) Lists relieve stress and focus the mind: I get overwhelmed by life frequently. Especially in school. Hence I list out what needs to be done and just do the next thing. And there is such satisfaction in striking tasks off the list.

9) Lists can force people to say revealing things: I think it’s very revealing how much I talk about doing things compared to what I actually get done in a day.  

10) Lists can keep us from procrastinating: The key word is “can”. But it’s true that things are more likely to get tackled if I put them at the top of a list with a giant star and exclamation points. 

I took pride in writing in my lists. Until I read a chapter called Do Everything Better in Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequiest this past weekend. Lynney made me read it. And I was horribly convicted. Shauna talks about how she was forever writing lists. Lists of tasks. Lists for self-improvement. Lists TO DO EVERYTHING BETTER. If I were being real, I’d say that that is at the heart of all of my lists. I fail at X, Y, & Z, so I write a list of what I can do to improve myself so I’ll never fail again. But then I fail again, so I feel condemned and guilty. So I write a new list. And the same vicious cycle continues.

So here’s the truth: I CANNOT DO EVERYTHING BETTER. I end up frustrated and bitter and discouraged. I feel like I’ve failed God somehow because I can’t get my act together and check items off a list. Shauna says, “The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being.” My walk with Christ is not an endless list of self-improvements I have to check off to get me into Heaven. I can’t come to the Lord with perfection–nor has He ever demanded that of me. He wants me to come before Him in with my neediness, failure, and half-finished lists. I’m still going to keep writing lists because I’d go crazy if I didn’t. I’m still going to keep writing lists because I need help to stay focused. I’m still going to keep writing lists because I need to be reminded that I have important work to do and I need to do it well. But I’m not a slave to my lists. Lists are good, but God’s grace is better.

And besides, sometimes you just have to ditch the lists and ride a carousel.SprintPhoto_bxc4jt

This Place is a Scrapbook of my Life

I adore this city.

If you had asked me a few months ago what I expected for my summer, I could never have predicted falling in love with the Nation’s Capitol. It’s never easy to explain your sentiments for a beloved place, except perhaps to say that it feels like home. And so D.C. feels to me. All of it–navigating the Metro, haunting my favorite coffee shops & book shops, going on walks & runs to Lincoln Park, scampering off to the Jefferson Memorial to journal & climb trees, taking in the sights & sounds of the National Mall, buying produce at Eastern Market, telling bewildered tourists how to find their way.

Most mornings I sit on L&N’s front porch swing with a cup of coffee, my journal & my Bible to reflect & read & pray. Potomac Avenue is busy in the early morning as people rush off to work at the hospital, armory, clinic or detention center down the road. The whir of car engines, beeping of horns, frequent sirens & steady rush of the city is comforting to me now.

Babysitting for all the dear families from CHBC is such a blessing. I adore my little charges and love being able to love on them & dance with them & sing for them & pray for them. All the parents are wonderful, too. One mother asked me to stay for tea after babysitting and we sat picnic style in her kitchen while we talked about Jesus, growing pains, city life, art, and beauty. She prayed for me, gave me figs and Earl Gray tea and sent me on my merry way, inspired to write and create again. SprintPhoto_bokhzt

I saw the National Symphony Orchestra perform Grieg & Saint-Seans at the Kennedy Center in early June–a performance that drew me to tears. A bit dramatic, I’ll admit. All I could think of while I was there was Cary Grant in Houseboat. I think that’s the first encounter I had with the Kennedy Center and I’d been dying to go there ever since. Lynney sat with me, and we had a rough go of it trying to smother our laughter over the man clashing the cymbals during a particular movement.

Once or twice Madisson and I have been to watch the sunrise at the Lincoln Memorial. Morning devoI love how quiet it is in the early morning (5 a.m.!!). We read from the Valley of Vision this particular morning and a passage in the Psalms. The view was majestic. I wish I could do this every morning (except the waking up at 4:30 bit).

One Friday, Lynney, Madisson & I went to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. The water was freezing & violent, but the beach was incredibly relaxing and just the sort of spiritual and mental retreat needed. After turning into lobsters, we drove to Lewes, the most quaint and picturesque little beach town I’ve ever seen. We had dinner, ice cream, and walked along the shops, drinking in the perfect summer evening. On the way home, driving over the Bay Bridge with the windows down and music blasting, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh a little over how beautiful life is. Deleware bridge

I love being here with Lynne–I love sharing life with my best friend and sister that I only get to see about four times a year normally. She is so kind, wise, generous & incredibly fun. She appreciates my humor and I love how we can both quote the exact same movie lines at appropriate moments and smile knowingly at each other. She introduced me to Paul in Georgetown (my absolute FAVORITE place). She took me to see Despicable Me 2 so we could laugh at Steve Carell & the minions. She wants me to move here so we can live together. I wouldn’t object to that at all.Coffee date

There is so much left unsaid that I could say. I could write many blog posts just trying to capture the thousands of little moments that have made me laugh, cry, smile & want to dance. I’ve been blessed by so many WONDERFUL relationships. I’ve had the sweetest, most encouraging summer. I’ve been challenged and sharpened by my sweet Bible Study friends. I know who I am. I know who I want to be. I have unfinished business at Appalachian that I am so excited to do, but as the end of my summer draws near, my heart longs for home and yet aches for the leaving. Bstuds

I’ll be back, D.C. J’adore cette ville.

A Prayer for Life

Lord, give me a heart of obedience to follow wherever You lead, no matter how frightening or lonely the path. Fill me with faith to trust Your mysterious guidance; fill me with hope that Your plans will not delay or be thwarted. Go with me, before and behind. Use me in whatever capacity You’d choose for me. Help me run my race with joy, entrusting all cares to You. When I feel my weakness on every side, renew me with Your strength. Whatever You’d ask of me, whatever I must do, wherever I must go, whoever You’d have me be, give me faith to step in the darkness and follow Your calling. However deep my weakness and sins go, may Your grace go deeper still. Keep me ever near the cross that I might abide in the cleansing power of Your blood and rest securely in Your perfect life.

Quote

“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” ― Augustine of Hippo

Forever faithfulAt this times nearly two months ago I had finished finals and felt I was adrift at sea, waiting for the wind to blow and give me direction for my summer. The Lord laid the story of the persistent widow on my heart [Luke 18] and that’s how I found myself praying. This faithful, audacious woman demanded justice from a godless, egocentric judge, and it was granted to her; not because she deserved it, but because the judge knew she would keep asking him until he finally gave her what she wanted. Jesus tells his disciples, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”

Not long after I began to pray seemingly audacious, childlike prayers, the Lord provided an internship, several jobs, and a place to live–in Washington, D.C. The Lord is so kind to close doors for me–however painful they may be at the time–in order to clear the way for the one He wants me to walk through. Paul Miller in his book, The Praying Life, says:

God is for you in the details of your life. He wants you to thrive. He is, after all, a God of hope. The infinite God touches us personally. Paul alludes to this when he says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than we all can ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). We dream big because God is big. Our prayers don’t float above life–praying is inseparable from working, planning, and good old-fashioned begging.

So I moved to D.C.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love it here and all the countless adventures I’ve been on. The Lord has provided so many dear, new friends, as well as the comfort and joy of familiar ones, like Lynney and Madisson.

This post doesn’t have much of a point to it–I’m not really here to tell you about my life in D.C. or make a profound statement, but I wanted to share a few things the Lord has been teaching me through my time up here.

Holiness demonstrates that we live for better hopes and better desires because we live for a better Savior.

This is the essence of the sermon I heard last week at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. It resonated deeply with me because I’m in that point of life where I’m looking to the future with much uncertainty, apprehension, and (surprise, surprise) fear. I guess most Seniors feel this way, but I’m really at a crossroads where I don’t even know what I want to do, really. So I feel like my identity is lost because I define my life by my accomplishments and my plans.

Our lives are a reflection of our hopes.

Am I placing my hopes finally here? My hope in this life is not in the job I get or don’t get, how I measure up or fail in comparison to others, my beauty or lack thereof, my plans to change the world, my state of singleness or desire for marriage, my GPA, my talents, my wit, or any other such transient thing. My hope is Christ. My life is Christ. My identity is Christ.

God knew all about me–yet he purposed to save me. There is such hope and beauty in that. Lord knows my life has been relatively easy–my greatest obstacles and hardships have been emotional battles over surrendering to the Lord my desires–but oh how I hope and long that my cry throughout my life, regardless of what happens, will be, “Jesus! Give me more of Jesus!” My heart aches to be full of Him. My heart longs to be in His presence. My soul yearns for heaven where I will be with him finally.

Paul Miller says, “Christians have just one story–the gospel story–repeated over and over in our lives.” I think of the brokenness of this world and all the hurt and pain I see brothers and sisters go through and my heart just aches. But for the Christian, every unhappy story that is unfinished in this life will one day have a happy ending because the Lord redeems all things.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. [Romans 8:19-24]

So I’ll keep praying like that persistent widow for the Lord to give me guidance. I’ll keep showing up for life, even on the days it seems pointless, because nothing is wasted in God’s economy. And I’ll keep drawing my hopes out of this world and place them on Jesus who will never fail me, leave me, forsake me, or stop loving me.

“She loves the serene brutality of the ocean, loves the electric power she felt with each breath of wet, briny air.” ― Holly Black

SinkingIt is the twentieth of May and I am sitting/lounging at the seaside watching the grey/green waves billow & crash incessantly before me. It’s a gray & misty day. The ocean on a cloudy day collects a thick haze about it, inviting & soothing–not like the exhilarating, brilliant sky of a clear afternoon.

The beach is nearly empty–people are scattered about in distances far enough away from each other to be considered unsociable at best. A gull’s piercing cry crashes upon my ears, announcing his arrival. He soars overhead for a fleeting second, finds nothing of interest & soars off again in search of more promising persons.

People walking along the shore look like water nymphs floating over the waters–an eerie, medieval quality about them. A crow attacks our bag of Sunchips, but R bravely wards him off by clapping her hands and chasing him. He backs away menacingly & is joined by a friend. They consult together. The two scamper off in search of less attentive loungers.

The crow is back, unable to avoid temptation. R moves the chips closer to her chair & shoos him off. Really, the nerve of some birds! Two helicopters fly overhead, a good two hundred feet away from the shore. They are likely from the Fort close by.

Two children shriek & scream with delight as they wade in the water with their father. They are too young to care how bitterly cold the water is & too bold to care about how high the waves go before crashing down. Brave children.

A little bird–I do not know the name–stands close to the water’s edge. He digs with his long beak into the sand looking for crabs. The tide comes in & he scurries away, as if afraid wet feet would be the death of him.

The sand close to our resort is finer and softer than any I’ve encountered before. E says it’s imported. I don’t know if I believe her. I want to know why you would import something every beach has an abundance of.

There are paddle boarders further out at sea, enjoying themselves immensely, it would seem. I would be afraid of capsizing & being eaten by sharks. Irrational fears.

Have you noticed how your vision makes the world appear grey after being exposed to the sun for a time? Everything looks less real–like you’re watching the world through the lens of a camera’s filter.

E is here to relax from her 9-5 adult job. She is asleep in her chair wrapped in a sarong & beach towel. R is here to tan & read & watch people. She pulls out her Nook and reads Steven King’s The Shining. I am here for the now green/blue foaming waves of the ocean whose majestic roar never fails to capture my heart.

I finish Dodi Smith’s I Capture the Castle with a sigh, wishing this glorious, quiet, windy afternoon could be captured & returned to again and again.

Goodbye, Ocean. Hello, D.C.

I am an Abolitionist

I wrote this speech for an oratory contest that got cancelled, but I thought I’d share it since it will likely never be used again:

Dear Mr. President,

People will tell you my generation is the Harry Potter generation. Having girls of your own, I’m sure you know what this means–we were young enough when the books came out to truly believe in the magic. We thought our acceptance letters to Hogwarts would arrive on our 11th birthdays. We played Quidditch in the backyard. We believe in the values of deep friendship, bravery, and love. Even as we have grown older, the world of Harry Potter still resonates with each of us. Some critics may call this the new Peter Pan complex of my narcissistic, apathetic, cynical generation. Perhaps there is some fair truth to that claim, but I think our Harry Potter fascination is a result of the fact that it resonates with something far deeper than childish fancy, for it has to do with our deeply-rooted desires to be heroes–someone who makes a difference in this world. 

I am addressing you today on an issue in these United States that is dear to my heart for it calls upon my values of friendship, bravery, and love for my fellow man. That issue is modern-day slavery in the forms of sex trade and prostitution. I’m sure you’re wondering where Harry Potter fits into this charged topic, but let me assure you that it will all fit together in the end.

On Sept. 25, 2012, Mr. President, you delivered an address at the Clinton Global Initiative on the issue of Human Trafficking as modern-day slavery. You said, “Slavery ought to concern every person because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community because it tears at our social fabric.” I applaud you for recognizing that this is a growing issue globally and in our United States, and that your administration has already begun initiatives to effect change.

I am not making an appeal to the U.S. Government to throw money mindlessly into a new bill or initiative hoping the problem will right itself over time, but rather making an appeal to our nation’s leaders to invest in equipping individuals to end slavery themselves, beginning with education.

This is as much an appeal to my generation as it is to you, Mr. President, for I truly believe that great and lasting change occurs from the grassroots up.

According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, human trafficking is the  second largest criminal industry in the world, and the fastest growing. Nearly two million children are in the commercial trade and an estimated 600,000 persons are trafficking across international borders annually. Nearly 80 percent of victims are female, more than half of whom are under age. Human trafficking in general and sex trafficking in particular is a global venture generating approximately $32 billion a year in profits. 

But we cannot keep pushing the issue out thinking the problem lies in the world beyond our American borders. The sad reality is that the sex trade occurs in our own backyard. The US State Department estimates 14,000 to 17,000 foreign nationals are trafficked into the sex industry in the US annually, many of whom reside in cities such as New York, Atlanta, and Charlotte. The sex trade is not comprised of internationals alone, but also women from our own country. We tend to believe the myth that prostitutes are women who choose to sell their bodies voluntarily. In assuming this we overlook:

1) Prostitutes are underage in one out of two cases. The US Department of Justice says the average American prostitute begins working between the ages of 12 and 14.

2) Forces such as discrimination, poverty, limited social mobility, and gender inequality results in women being more vulnerable to sex trafficking.

Sex trafficking happens under our very noses, sometimes even to young girls in our public school system. An article from USA Today in September 2012 told stories of young girls in middle and high school trapped in prostitution. One girl said that during a sleepover she was handed over to a pimp by her friend’s father. Another girl was forced to sleep with clients during her lunch break at school to complete her quota. 

Usually girls who are victimized have a history of family abuse and rape and are lured into the trade by promises of security and love, then they cannot leave because their traffickers beat or threaten them. One survivor told USA Today about how her trafficker often used brute force to keep her from leaving. She reported that her captor once took a potato peel to her face and raped her as she bled. 

As much as these stories grieve and anger me, what angers me more is that we are so ignorant of what goes on around us–that we are blind and deaf and dumb to those who are afraid and alone and trapped. But where do we begin? How do we right these wrongs? 

The beginning step in education so we can become aware of the signs. We need also to change inadequate laws and policies that place the blame on the women rather than on the traffickers. You said in your address to the Clinton Global Initiative that since 2006 the US Department of Education has focused on training several school systems on how to be more aware of the sex trade. With all due respect, Mr. President, this is a nationwide problem that cannot be solved by educating a handful of school leaders alone. We must reach a larger demographic if we want to see lasting change. 

So how do we combat this vile practice? We do what we have always done in the US with issues if social justice: we fight for it. We fight for it by bringing understanding where there was ignorance, light where there was darkness, truths where there were myths, and compassion where there was apathy.

Mr. President, I appeal to you to charge and urge our schools and law enforcements and businesses and communities and public health services to be informed on this topic because ignorance is our greatest enemy. Urge them to equip themselves with educational materials that they might become more aware and thus take measures to stop this vile practice in its tracks.

But if ignorance is our first greatest enemy, our second greatest is apathy. And this takes us back to Harry Potter:

Maybe we believe in those stories not because of how magical or well-written they are, but because we are anxious to be heroes in our own lives. But when we find we are not Harry Potter–and not all of us can be–we give up and settle for apathy. But I reject that. I reject that because J.K. Rowling created Neville Longbottom for the common man. Neville could have been the chosen one to defeat Lord Voldemort, but that was not his fate. Harry was chosen to conquer the darkness and be the face of deliverance, yet Neville was never excused from doing his bit to defy evil. He could have run off, caved into the cowardice of his peers, or despaired and given up because he was not the chosen one., But what does the story say? Neville–poor, weak, sniveling Neville–became a hero in his own right because he chose to stand against evil and tell darkness, “this far, but no farther.”

You, Mr. President, are in many ways one of the Harry Potter of this world. You did not choose to inherit the problem of sex slavery, yet the ball is in your court. You are a leader and you cannot neglect your duty to uphold our nation’s core value of freedom. Will you do your part to change the course of our nation? Will you lead us by bringing the issue to our attention and not allowing us to forget it? Will you pass laws that generate greater checks and balances and put strategic funding toward initiatives to free women and girls?

And now I get to you, my generation. Let me assure you that while you may not be a Harry Potter, you are in no way excused from taking action. With knowledge comes the responsibility to act upon that knowledge. You may never single-handedly change the course of our world and bring an end to the sex trade, but that in no way excuses you from playing even the smallest role in preserving justice. We all have voices and an audience. They may be small, but let us never despise the days of small things, for you never can tell where they may lead. Who fooled us into thinking we need to be the chosen one or we can do nothing?

Now it’s up to you. Now we are the enforcers and the task is up to us to bring about change. I have three applications for you today. The first is specifically directed at men:

  1. You can end the sex trade by truly valuing women. They are not sex objects for you to toy with, but human beings to be cared for and prized with compassion and love.
  2. For everyone: Inform other people. It’s as simple as that.
  3. Act. Join clubs on campus seeking to uphold social justice. Donate your time or money to organizations seeking to end trafficking or who provide aftercare for survivors. Support the individuals who work for these organizations with encouragement, love, and prayers.

Be that voice of change. Sometimes all it takes is one voice–a small, Neville Longbottom voice–and then that voice becomes a hundred, and then a thousand,  until it cannot be silenced. Now the choice is up to you. The great abolitionist William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again you did not know.”