Unwrapping the Gift of Peace

Unwrapping the Gift of Peace

On this second week of Advent, we light the peace candle. I can’t help but think about the weight of this world and how busy our lives can be around this time of year. When you look up the definition of peace in the English language, there are several definitions often referring to a tranquil state, an end to war, harmony among a group of people or persons, etc. And yet, I bet many of you reading this can think of several situations where peace is absent according to the definitions above, especially this time of year.

Peace is something that I would often find myself fighting for. Over the the years I have found ways here and there to combat the chaos and stress but never fully felt peace. One year, probably one of my hardest to date, I went for a walk. It was cold and I was home in Kentucky for the holidays. I found myself walking to an old park that I grew up playing at as a child. So much of that park had changed but as I kept walking, I followed the path that lead to a bridge over a creek. And there, at the end of that bridge, was a tiny red bench. Sitting on that bench in dead winter, I felt like I could finally hear. I felt peace and the only sounds around me were the rushing of the water and the wind blowing through the trees.

I had no idea how bad I needed that bench until I sat down on it. I realized that my life had become very loud, the demands and stress of my job were not lessening and I was just starting to cave. I remember being so discouraged by some devastating situations going on around me that I could not change and just the general feeling of being overwhelmed.

But as I sat at that bench, alone in silence, I could hear my own heartbeat. It had been a long time since I had experienced that kind of quiet. And on this day, I realized that the version of peace that Jesus promised in John 14:27 was not my definition of peace. Yes, the silence was beautiful and necessary for the moment but it was a moment and it was not my every day.

I tend to think peace is a quiet day where everything goes right, or my house is clean or my phone is not constantly lighting up with new messages, or a completed task list or a day without people needing something from me. I used to measure peace according to how high or low my stress level would be. However, Jesus used that bench to remind me of my own disconnect with him, with myself, and with the true meaning of peace.

I think about Jesus’ parting words to the disciples on the night before he would be arrested. It was customary and still is in that culture to wish someone peace when you leave them. But often, a simple formality or just another way to say goodbye. When Jesus says it to the disciples, these parting words held a deeper meaning and he even clarifies by stating:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

It is his last full night with the discples. Men he had done life with and built friendships. As he is sitting down to his last meal with them, he is sharing with them of the importance of his departure. He shares how he will send the Holy Spirit to guide them. And then he says, he will leave his peace. Peace was his parting gift. And it was not just for the disciples alone. Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit and His Peace.

I don’t know about you but I can forget that second part and focus on the first. Jesus saw them both as two important gifts, first, a helper and guide but then the second, his peace. He left behind His Spirit and His Peace. Just like the Holy Spirit, peace is not something that can be earned or bought, it is a gift that is to be received.

I have come to learn and understand the incredible privilege of the gift of his peace. It’s a peace that runs deep, it’s a gift and a peace that lasts, if we let it. The peace that Jesus gives is a state of the heart that brings a steadfastness and calm even if everything around us may not be calm. His peace feels better than that moment on my little red bench and lasts much longer.

This Advent season, I pray we all remain steadfast and rooted in His peace no matter what may be going on around us and our loved ones.

God, grant us the deeper understanding of your peace and help us to truly accept it as the incredible gift it is. May others recognize the peace we carry and may our peace this holiday season be contagious to those we encounter.

Verses for this week:

Sunday- Luke 14:27

Monday- Isaiah 9: 6-7

Tuesday- Philippians 4:7

Wednesday- Psalm 29:11

Thursday- Romans 8:6

Friday- Isaiah 26:3

Saturday- Ephesians 6:15

Image Via https://unsplash.com/@karishea

A Thrill of Hope

A Thrill of Hope

Advent week one

“The whole world trembles with hope…”

Cantique de Noel

Can you feel it in the air? It’s momentum as the anticipation of the holiday season builds and people begin to make plans. Decorations go up, calendars fill and some, like me, pray for snow. Many of us have waited all year for the season that makes hope contagious.

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the beginning of Advent kicking off a week long reflection on hope. Today is the first day of Advent and this evening I’ll be lighting the candle of hope. And lately, I have needed to hold on to a whole lot of hope and a decent amount of coffee.

It feels like the perfect time to hope like crazy. You know why? Because right now people around the world are celebrating Advent by lighting the first candle. And when I think about that, my heart wants to explode with hope at the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of candles interrupting darkness. We need hope to keep burning. I need hope to keep burning.

“Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.”

1 Chronicles 29:15

I recently learned about the incredible true story of the famous and loved Christmas hymn, O Holy Night.

In 1847 in France, a young poet, Placide Cappeau, who rarely attended church, was asked by a local priest to write a Christmas poem. While on a long journey to Paris, Cappeau penned words about the birth of Jesus . He contemplated the story of the nativity and as he poured over his words, he felt inspired and hopeful. His inspiration lead him to collaborate with a famous composer, Adolphe Charles Adams, to put music to the words. Adams, who was Jewish and did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, agreed to put notes to his friend’s words. Three weeks later in a small French town, Cantique Noel was sung at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

While the song grew in popularity with the church and towns people, its popularity would be short lived with the church. When discovered that Cappeau left the church and Adams did not believe in the birth of Jesus, the church felt they could no longer endorse Cantique Noel. And even though the church stopped singing it, the town people continued. The song continued in popularity and spread from town to town. Eventually the church in France would pick it back up and make it a part of their Christmas tradition.

A decade later John Sullivan Dwight, a writer and passionate abolitionist, had the words of Cantique Noel translated to English. Dwight was eager to introduce the lyrics to Americans and was especially partial to the third verse “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” This verse supported his passion to fight against slavery. His efforts paid off and America quickly grew to love the song.

In 1906, with composer Adams no longer alive and Cappeau and Dwight in the latter stages of life, Reginald Fessenden, a universtiy professor and former chemist for Thomas Edison, did the impossible on Christmas Eve. With the help of a microphone and a generator, Fessenden, quoted verses of the birth of Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Ship radio operators and newspaper decoders sat stunned and mesmerized that a human voice was breaking through the air waves for the first time ever. As Fessenden finished quoting Luke, he picked up his violin and played, O Holy Night. I am sure it seemed like a Christmas miracle to the few that had access to a radio as it was not a common household item at this time.

O Holy Night became known as the very first song to ever be played on raido air waves. This historical song had its own journey of hope as people in different stages of their faith pioneered its introduction into the hearts and homes of people everywhere at Christmas.

I have been so touched to learn the powerful story behind a song I already loved. From now on, every Christmas, I will think about this song a little deeper and the people who fought to keep it alive. I think the story of this song is the perfect example of keeping hope alive in the midst of insurmountable odds or maybe our own questions of faith, doubt, disappointment, or pain. After all, hope isn’t a wish or a feeling-it’s the foundation of our faith in Jesus and the story of a baby boy who changed the course of history. And still today, His story continues to change the history of people’s lives all over the world.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Chorus
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

Chorus
He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Chorus
Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory, evermore proclaim!

This week as I light the candle of hope each night, these following verses will be part of my reflection. I am excited for you to join me and to hear of your reflections as we journey together this Advent season!

Verses for this week:

Sunday- 1 Chronicles 29:16

Monday- Romans 8:24-25

Tuesday- Romans 5:5

Wednesday- Romans 15:13

Thursday- Colossians 3:2

Friday- Psalms 147:11

Saturday- Isaiah 40:31

Image Via Unsplash

Dear Modern Day Abolitionist

Dear Modern Day Abolitionist

It’s not about you. It’s not about you. Please know though that I say this with so much love and kindness. I am writing you to tell you that it’s not about you because if you joined this fight, if you became an abolitionist to make a difference, to end human trafficking to rescue people, to stop slavery- You Will Burn Out.

It makes sense for the above reasons to be why you became an abolitionist- you felt compelled to do something. But eventually that sheer determination will only fuel you for a couple of years and then you will become fatigued. Joining a cause to change the world is great but what will sustain you and fuel you is simply just to love people and respect their dignity.

I cannot tell the detriment that is made in counter trafficking when those in need of assistance or support are not given the dignity they are entitled. Understanding terminology, statistics, stories and reports are all well and good but if we are not careful they can stigmatize and dehumanize a particular group of people experiencing a social injustice. And then we forget that, that particular people group is made up of unique individuals. These individuals have their own independent experiences and stories.

If dignity for others is a core value that you adhere to in any kind of humanitarian service work, than you will already be combating the savior complex that can be so prevalent in service work.

I tell you all of this because I made these mistakes early on but never dreamed I was hurting more than I was helping. After all, everyone in the anti-trafficking movement was camped around the mission to stop it. And it is a good reason to fight but it cannot be the main reason we rally. We have to rally because we love people. Because we believe in their value and dignity because we see them as as EQUALS, as PEERS because we see them as FRIENDS. The anti trafficking world has often bonded over outrage and anger as a means to fuel people to fight to abolish and yet the numbers increase in exploitation as well as staff and volunteer burnout.

 I believe to fight against human trafficking the approach cannot be re-active but rather purposefully and sustainably approached.  I think there is a need for the conversation to change in how we discuss Human Trafficking or raise awareness in the anti- trafficking movement. While albeit well intentioned, the image or perception of what is happening and how to help has incidentally created an “us versus them” mentality, in which the practitioners, volunteers, NGOs, etc are on one side of the fight against slavery and the survivors are on the other. When in fact we are all on one side and are ending modern day slavery together. Avoid using statements that say, “we provide freedom or we rescue.” I caution this because I can tell you that I have seen that kind of language bring more harm than good across the globe.

 Over the years, I have sat across the table from women and men working in prostitution, women and men in prison, kids growing up in violent communities and later going on to steal to survive, young people trying to dodge gang life and young people succumbing to the pressure of gang life.

I have listened to the stories of formerly incarcerated men and women trying to rebuild their lives after serving their time but coming against a society that won’t let them rebuild.

I have sat across the table from people who never thought they would leave home and country and become a refugee dependent on another nation’s generosity. And ALL of these stories and relationships have changed my life.

Here’s the thing, there was a time that I didn’t know to think about human trafficking, exploitation in prostitution and pornography, mass incarceration, gang violence and recruitment, child marriage, etc as more than heartbreaking issues of our day.

That is, until I was introduced to people affected by it daily. As I came to know these people-they became my friends. I then not only cared but became passionate to fight against the things that placed my friends in these situations. It was not about a cause, my friends weren’t a social justice “issue” they were living, breathing human beings who at some point had their stories hijacked.

And at the end of the day, every single one of these people just needed someone to listen. They needed to be seen and known. The thing is, after every table moment, I walked away humbled, challenged and changed. It forced me to look at governments, politics, systems and institutions and navigate ways for change, real change.

 And it’s not easy but change can and does happen and one of those ways is to first sit across the table from the people whom you might normally have never met.

I made a promise to myself years ago that I would celebrate every win in a fun and memorable way.⁣⁣

When I got word that a refugee family we were assisting in relocating had finally made it safely out of their country and arrived to their destination without problem- I jumped on my bed! ⁣⁣

⁣⁣When the text arrived that a young woman who had been trafficked had made an escape and was finally safe- I ate cake at midnight!⁣⁣

⁣⁣When a survivor messaged me to let me know she is still safe and pursuing her dream of a degree in fine arts-I took the rest of the day off and walked at my favorite park!⁣⁣

⁣⁣There are plenty of times I don’t receive good news and my heart breaks but I have learned that I cannot camp in disappointment or setbacks in fighting modern day slavery. I take a moment to let the tough news sink in and I grieve.⁣⁣ Our whole team has also learned to celebrate failure, not because we failed but because we tried.⁣⁣

⁣⁣If you are helping to provide support to someone requiring assistance, learn their name and a fun fact or dream they have, not the horrible things that have happened to them. Figure out how to humanize them instead of turning them into a cause or part of a social problem you must solve. If you memorialize the horror of what they have been through in order to fuel you to do what you do, you really actually just dishonor what they have survived. And then if you share only their pain and suffering with the world as a way to spur people to donate or fight-you keep the freedom they have at arm’s length.

My fellow abolitionist, after almost ten years in anti-trafficking work, I am fully convinced that if we let a love for people, a value for their dignity and a view of their equality be what fuels our passion to fight modern day slavery, we just might end it.

Leila

Leila
It was a cold, rainy night in San Jose the night we met Leila. I still remember where she was standing and how she liked her coffee.
 Our team, along with another organization, had just started visiting  the red light district and zones. We would bring coffee and cookies and hangout with people living and working on the streets of the capital city.
Over the weeks and months of visiting Leila, I practiced my Spanish and she would practice a few words of English. We settled into a rhythm of sorts in our conversation topics. Our team van would pull up, she would recognize it and walk over with her coffee order ready. I would climb out and we would chat about the weather, music, Costa Rican food, etc.
One December night I found myself alone in our drop in center that we operated at the time-setting up a Christmas tree. I was homesick, exhausted and wondering if the decision to live and work in Costa Rica was the right decision. It had been a rough year and the ups and downs of running a non profit organization combined with living far from home and familiarity were taking it’s toll on my heart. I figured throwing myself into decorating  the Christmas tree would help because I LOVE Christmas!
I had just started decorating when I heard a light knock on the outside gate of the center. To my surprise, there stood Leila with a shy smile as I opened the door.  She had never visited before. As soon as she entered, she grabbed me in the biggest hug. It was as if her pain and loneliness was reaching out to mine in comfort. We stood there in a fierce embrace, no words, no explanation needed. Somehow that hug transcended both language and culture.
Leila changed my whole world that night as she shared with me and I with her. Eventually other staff joined us and she opened up about her story and life on the streets. Leila gave me a picture of world I didn’t know or fully understand. Her story is not mine to share but what I can tell you is that her life was beautifully hard.
Weeks turned into months and months turned into years of our tradition of the van pulling up, me climbing out and Leila running to hug me. We would teach other worship songs, pray and sometimes just sit quietly sipping our coffee together.
I’ll never forget the night the phone call came that Leila had passed away. My heart felt shattered into a million pieces. Leila and I didn’t always agree on things but at the end of the day she knew that I loved her and that I was for her.
Leila taught me that I didn’t need to visit people on the streets with coffee in order to solve their life problems or “rescue them.” 
I just needed to show up and build a bridge of mutual trust and respect.
Sometimes love looks like just showing up, pouring a cup of coffee and sitting quietly without expectation.
Almost ten years later, I am fully convinced that I made the right decision to quit my job and leave my Kentucky life to live and work in Costa Rica. For me it was never about what I building but about who I was meeting. 
Jesus was about the process of the journey. He knew that every person I would encounter would change and shape what we were doing in Costa Rica. He knew we would go on to work in other nations. He knew that women like Leila could impact our team which would in turn impact nations. All because we shared coffee on the streets.

Interrupting the darkness with hope.

Interrupting the darkness with hope.

Can you feel it in the air? It’s momentum as the anticipation of the holiday season builds and people begin to make plans. Decorations go up, calendars fill and some, like me, pray for snow. Many of us have waited all year for the season that makes hope contagious.

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the beginning of Advent kicking off a week long reflection on hope. And lately, I have needed to hold on to a whole lot of hope and a decent amount of coffee.

I am hoping for some hard things as we come to the close of the year. I am learning that hope and joy have to be rooted deep down inside of me. They are not feelings or emotions sparked by external circumstances. Hope and Joy propel me to keep going as cases come across my desk of need. The weight of needing answers, strategy and solutions can pull oh so heavy on my mind and heart.

There are stories that fill my days right now of how desperate people are for a miracle, an answered prayer, a warm meal or a safe place to sleep. And I am right there with them, linking my arm to theirs and praying and hoping.

It’s why I started the Holiday Campaign. It’s why I was crazy enough to believe for $15,000 by December 31st to help my friends in Jordan, Costa Rica and the United States.

It feels like the perfect time to hope like crazy. You know why? Because right now people around the world are celebrating Advent by lighting the first candle-the candle of hope. And when I think about that, my heart wants to explode with hope at the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of candles interrupting darkness. We need hope to keep burning. I need hope to keep burning.

We are all interrupting darkness when we take time to listen to one another instead of shouting over each other. Darkness is interrupted when I share a cup of coffee with my friends in the red light district. Darkness is interrupted when my Christian teammate breaks bread with a Muslim family. Darkness is interrupted when a child receives a warm meal. Darkness is interrupted when time is taken to hear the story of one who is incarcerated. Darkness is interrupted when time is taken to hear a victim’s story. Darkness is interrupted every time a refugee is welcomed. Darkness is interrupted every single time we love without agenda.

Can I share a story with you that has just marked my heart lately?

One of the stories from the holiday campaign is of a family affected by the Syrian war. Like most families who crossed over into Jordan fleeing government troops, this family left Syria with very little to their name after the mom was struck in the back of the head by a rifle, suffering brain damage due to the blunt force trauma.

Decisions have not come easy for this family who’ve spent some time in a UAE-sponsored medical camp in Azraq, Jordan where the mom received medical attention. Having a daughter with cerebral palsy, a wife with permanent brain damage, and young children dependent on his care- you can imagine the challenges this father faced in leaving everything behind.

Now outside the camp, the family lives in a poorer neighborhood in an urban area. They maintain a small home of their own by sifting through plastic and other materials from the dump to sell but it’s not enough to protect them this winter from the cold.

This Christmas, I am hoping hard to fix their roof.

I have thought of all of the things I am hoping hard for as I have lit the candle each night this week. As we come to the end of the first week of Advent, I think of the wonder it is to step into the center of what feels like a hopeless situation and make hope contagious. And my heart burns hard for hope to be loud.

May we all continue to interrupt darkness and hope hard this season.

 

Running on “E”

Running on “E”

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

 

I have been thinking about the incredible value found in learning to say “no” to good things in order to say “yes” to great things. When I first started out in full time ministry, I did not understand how to say no to good things or steward my time well. I felt I had to be available for everyone, all of the time. This kind of lifestyle, as you might imagine, did not leave much time for self care and time alone with the Father.

I remember a particularly busy season where I had been pushing myself pretty hard. Between deadlines, meetings, travel and speaking-I was busy. One morning, I woke up and could feel my heart needing time with Jesus. As I was sitting there in the quiet with Him, I heard God speak to my heart that I was running on fumes. I instantly had a picture pop into my head of a fuel gauge on a car where the dial was on empty and a red light was flashing a warning. I realized that God was warning me that in all of the busyness, I had not carved out space to refuel and instead my internal gas light was on and I had been cruising on fumes.

Have you ever been driving your car on empty where the “fuel is low” light is flashing and you’re just praying you make it to the first available gas station? You panic, pray and try to coast until finally you arrive at a gas station. And what a relief it is when you fill up that gas tank and drive off with a full tank of gas-oh the peace you feel! I think we all know that gas game and I have been guilty of playing it more times than I care to admit. The thing is, in the long term, that’s a terrible thing to do to your car.

Most cars have an electric fuel pump and this pump rests inside the tank actually submerged in the fuel. Submersion helps the pump to stay lubricated and therefore cool. Without this submergence in fuel, the pump can self-destruct from overheating. The reserve fuel inside your tank helps to prevent the overheating but reserve fuel only lasts so long. Obviously you can’t run on an empty tank forever but even if every time you get low and put in just enough gas to get by- your pump can fail earlier than normal. Not to mention that the fuel pump is also taking in the bottom of the barrel-literally and it is full of debris.

I can’t help but compare this situation to our spiritual gas pump. I find that in the busyness of ministry we are often running on reserve fuel or yesterday’s revelation and last week’s time with Jesus. Or we can be scraping the bottom of the barrel for energy or any remnants of spirituality.  But just like the car, the reserve fuel will run out and fumes from the reserve fuel will only get you so far. But a long term preventative measure to pump breakdown is to put gas in the tank of your car before the reserve fuel kicks on.

I believe it is the same way for our spiritual life and that a preventative measure is to be intentional about time and rest with God rather than pushing ourselves on empty and coming to a desperate breaking point. It took me some time to come to understand how important and honoring it was to manage my time well. God invites us into rest, it’s important to Him.

The verse above in Psalms is one of my favorite verses and it was written as a prayer from Moses. I often wonder what it would be like to go back in time and speak with Moses on the subject of leadership and time management-I would have loved to pick his brain! Here is a man leading an entire nation out of slavery and into freedom. Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 gives us a glimpse of his heart and his wisdom to understand that life and freedom are a gift from God. We must choose wisely how to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cambodia

Cambodia

Several months back, I had the incredible privilege to travel to Cambodia for work. My colleague, Fabiola and I went on behalf of LFI to attend an anti-trafficking coalition conference in Phnom Pehn. It was an encouraging experience to sit around the table with so many amazing people working for human rights in Cambodia and around the world. We were also able to take in some history and culture in between conference days and networking meetings.

We traveled from Costa Rica to Cambodia and after what felt like the longest trip I have ever taken, we still managed to take in the city of Phnom Pehn and the royal palace. (Coffee played a huge roll in our survival this first day.)

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I found Cambodia easy to navigate especially the capitol city where streets are marked and while I didn’t encounter many people who spoke English, most taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers were able to understand where we needed to go. We often chose to negotiate a price with a tuk tuk driver and used that as our main source of transportation around the city. A ride could range in price from $1.00-$5.00 depending on how far you trip would be. I personally enjoyed taking tuk tuks because they weren’t costly, allowed such a great view of everything and supported local drivers.

 

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I highly recommend visiting the temples in Siem Reap. A friend recommended we save Angkor Wat for last as most tours start at Angkor Wat, so this gave us a chance to cover much distance with less crowds in the time we had allotted for touring. The temples are an incredible site with much still in tact after hundreds of years. Be prepared to do a great deal of walking!!! We hired a tuk tuk for the day as most know the tour and where to stop, I recommend doing this because it saves on time and some temples are spread out very far apart.

 

 

Cambodia is a beautiful nation, everyone was so friendly and the food was incredible. The whole trip was an amazing experience and the nation has made wonderful strides in fighting human trafficking. I had the opportunity to see first hand all that organizations are doing in tandem with the government and I think they are a great model of collaboration and what can happen when everyone works together!!

All in all, I loved visiting the Kingdom of Cambodia with it’s fascinating and rich history.