Reflections on Poverty

I feel like I am full of WHYS. The kind that touch the deepest part of my soul. The questions that make me cry out to God- wailing, protesting, begging for answers. If I didn’t admit that I ask them I think it makes me a fraud. How could I not? Maybe the most spiritual person would just accept what does not seem fair and just but I really think that person is just someone who is scared to ask. Scared to be undone because it might require action.

I just left a mountain in Haiti that has no electricity or running water. Disease takes most before the age of 55. Babies have no diapers and women have no sanitary products. Most cannot read. Many are left limping from strokes.  Children walk up to 3 hours to get to school. This short list hardly covers it…. And I came down the mountain before we fly home to stay in the comfortable hotel in the city with delicious nachos, live music at night and air conditioning. I cannot help but ask why I am here and they are there.

So I started writing this blog about 30 minutes ago and got so overwhelmed with the subject that I went to Facebook to distract myself.  A post by Danielle Strickland- one of the heroes of the faith in my opinion-came across my feed and here is what she posted:

WOW. OK…..there is my answer. I can’t add anything to that.

He gave so many of us resources…. and we spend. We hoard. We overindulge. We spoil our kids to make up for not being the parents we should be. We numb ourselves with spending. We sell our souls for the American dollar. Meanwhile, poverty and illiteracy are rampant.

A 25 year old who is like a son told me yesterday that sometimes the hunger is so unbearable that he cries in pain. I have never in my life felt that.

I watch children cling to the cherished pencil and sheet of paper that they bring back and forth to school everyday. I have never known a life without drawers full of paper and pencils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I watched a little girl gulp down water yesterday like she had never seen it before. I have never known a world without faucets, bottles on shelves, and fountains everywhere.

I watched a father carrying his twins on his shoulders for miles while the 2 year old hiked by herself. I have never known a life without fancy strollers, swings, cribs, slings, and bouncy seats.

Hundreds of people in a remote village in Haiti lost their crops after a horrific hurricane last year. I have no idea what it is like to watch my livelihood get washed away by a storm and have no other way to provide for my family.

A 14 year old lives with his uncle because his parents both died. Before his mom died she owed a debt. The people to whom she owed the money said the debt would be cleared if she gave them the boy. The uncle refused and has been paying the debt for years to keep his nephew safe. He had a stroke and arthritis from an injury from the earthquake but will not stop caring for his nephew. With nothing to eat and hardly a roof over their heads, he honors his commitment to raise this precious boy. In return, the boy works the farm any moment he is not in school because he feels so indebted to his uncle. I will just leave that one right there because it is so hard to comprehend.

3 and 4 year olds know how to work. They carry water, wash clothes,  and haul carrots and green onions on their heads for miles to help the family. They feed the animals before they trek to school. When my children were 3 and 4 they played with cars and dressed up like Buzz Lightyear. They never knew a day of work in their little lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some children cherish a plastic car or a lollipop like they had never seen one before. Because they haven’t. If those were given out on an American playground they would not be given a second thought. I have no idea what it would feel like to have a 10 cent toy make me squeal with joy.

Few people in Haiti have Bibles and when they do they are often worn and falling apart. I have never known a life without a Bible on every shelf and access to a free one everywhere I go.

 

Many children do not start school when they are young because they are needed at home to help the family. Or they start school and have to quit when a parent dies or becomes ill. Some start at 14 or 15 in our preschool class. I will never know an existence where my contribution as a 5 year old is what helps keep my family alive.

So what do I do with that?
I do something.

I can’t tell you what your something is. But the call is not for the super brave and those who have open schedules. It is not for the just the young or just the old. It is for all of us. It is for us when it is inconvenient and it is for us when it’s uncomfortable. We don’t get to sit in our insulated houses and assume someone else will do it. If we believe the Bible to be true than it is a call to us. I don’t have to throw Scripture out to convince you that this is true. You know the verses. You have read them, studied them, talked about them at Bible study…..but is that where it ended?

There are millions of people getting it more right than I am. Ask Kayla, who just went with me to Haiti, and she will tell you I am a hot mess. I slip and slide on the mountain rocks, get my Creole wrong constantly, have lots of not-so-Jesus-like moments, and never can find what I need at that moment. So God certainly does not call the qualified. He uses those of us who know what it is like to be broken and humbled by our unbelief and our insecurities.

For the longest time I worried about what the people in the village thought of me…..maybe it was rich American, white lady, or worse- maybe they gave me some undeserved fancy title. I did not ask til about 6 months ago because I was afraid of what I would find out. Finally I asked. And here is what I was told…..they call me “good mama.” When I found this out, I wept. I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Moms listen and act when they need to. Good moms don’t dominate, they love. They know their children because they pay attention.

Yesterday, as we were leaving the village, an elderly lady came up to me and in Creole said, “You are my mom.” All I could say was “Mesi.” Thank you. My heart was full. I knew my place. As Bob Goff says, God just wants us to go be secretly incredible. We don’t need flashy t-shirts proclaiming that Haiti has a problem and we have an answer. Many organizations who work in poverty are more of the problem than the solution. I have been part of the problem with some decisions I have made and was humbled by my mistakes and have committed to seek humility to serve in a way that empowers people and does not seek to fill my good-deed tank.

I hope you find your “something.” And I hope it lights you up. Brings you life. And that you let it change you from the inside out. Take the risk. Put yourself out there.

Ou dwe brave. Be brave.

I AM NOT AN OBJECT- ONE GIRL’S STORY

I learned a lot by going to a strip club every week for over a year.  So much about my view of people and faith changed because of what I saw there. I was no longer able to label strippers as throw aways because of their choices and I learned as  much about my brokenness as they shared theirs.  Instead of being disgusted by the women in the sex industry, I became more compassionate and more determined to get to know them and hear their stories. I say that not to reveal my deeply loving heart but to expose that if a judgmental and  sheltered (by choice) person like me could become aware and eventually an activist then anyone could.

In the midst of going to the strip club, “sex trafficking” became a buzz word. Because I am a skeptic and refuse to jump on the newest and latest social justice train (because they are all equally important), I was not affected much by the new headlines about the industry. Wasn’t it just as serious before we started talking about it and wasn’t third world poverty still an important social issue? During this time I became more determined that I was not called to join a committee to talk about it or go to a banquet to acquire awareness. I felt like I knew enough about the tragedy to go out and do something about it so to the club we went.

All the clubs have their own unique atmospheres but there is one common theme- darkness.

Walking in the door I could  feel the oppression. The greed and the lust. But mysteriously at the same time I felt the presence of God’s light in a mighty way.  It was as if  the room was begging for the light but rebuking it all at the same time.

Within the first hour I spent at a strip club, I began to see a calling….and it was just so simple. Love these women. Show them that there was hope and that they had options. Just BE PRESENT. Listening and encouraging. And for the next year that is what we did.

I did not go in to the club to shut the place down. I never was looking for illegal activity to bring in the police. That was not my job. I was there to look at women in the eye and tell them they were important and their lives mattered. From there I knew God would take care of the rest.

During the time we were going we had some amazing conversations with women about worth and value. We also talked about our families and our struggles. I did not only see their brokenness. I also saw my own….my  insecurities that lead me to destructive behavior. It might not be taking off my clothes for money but I had my own pile of shattered pieces. Over the loud music, the lights and the pole, we had some sacred times sharing our hearts.

One of the women at the club intrigued me. Her name was Jasmine and everyone said that was her real name, not her stage name. There was a softness about her spirit and a humility that baffled me.  Since we went during the day and she often worked nights I did not see her often but her name came up a lot with the women and it always seemed positive.

Here she is on her first day at the club.

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Then a year ago, Jasmine (who is actually Ashley)  showed up at my house, scared, broken and seeking advice. When she came in the door I immediately felt that all those years in the club had led me to this conversation. She wanted out of the industry and was willing  to do what it would take. I have heard this story a lot so we set some goals to see if she was really serious.

She stayed at the club for several more months and was planning her exit strategy. What struck me about her was that she had a plan- cosmetology school, joining an in home business, and getting by on less cash flow. It really caught my attention that she was taking action to get where she wanted to be.

At the time she left the club,  she was pregnant so getting a job was difficult. We spent time together brainstorming money making strategies. We started having yard sales and at 8 months pregnant she would be out in the blazing heat sorting clothes and making deals. She started collecting people’s yard sale leftovers and selling them in Facebook groups. She would walk across town to deliver something and  it would be for $10. Soon people I know started to see her posts and donate more.

Then a realtor friend of mine let us go into homes she had on the market and sell what the previous owners did not take with them. Our first house Ashley helped me clean out was an all day endeavor and she insisted on helping. Her baby was 4 days old. Then the next house she got a cleaning job. They offered her $100. She said she would have done it for $20 because it was so much better than what she had to do at the club.

I saw a strength in her I knew I did not have. It was a fight in her to stay the course and integrate into a different way of life. Even though she had adapted for 8 years  into the lifestyle  in the club, she had come to the conclusion that she did not fit there and there had to be something more for her and her family. I watched as each week she got a little stronger and a little more comfortable in her own skin.

As I got to know her she told me her story. She was 19, working at Zaxby’s, with a 2 year old baby, living with her parents, and a friend from her childhood told her how she could make more money. She went to the club and as she looks back she not only appreciated the money but she said it “was fun.” Hanging out with the other women during day shift and drinking was a whole lot more intriguing than chicken tenders at $8 an hour. For a girl who struggled with anxiety and shame, she suddenly felt like “somebody.”   The club became a “second home.”  She did not have any friends outside the club so her social life revolved around the friends she made there and the excessive partying that took place each day and night.

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The money was great in the beginning because she was the “new girl.”  The older men are often drawn to young  girls who could be their granddaughters. Sad but true. Meanwhile Ashley became an alcoholic and could not raise the 2 children she  had so her parents stepped in and raised them. This lifestyle went on for the next 8 years.

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Last year there was a shift in her. She decided she could not stomach it anymore and began to disconnect. She was pregnant but she could have stayed working there- she worked throughout her last pregnancy.  “It is very dark. Dark world. It’s a whole other world inside those buildings and it starts to feel normal.” Then in February 2016 she walked out the door and has not gone back.

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I always wonder what keeps her from going back when the cupboards are bare and the bills are due and she simply says,  “I see there are better ways. I don’t want to live that lifestyle anymore. For the first time in my adult life I feel  respected.  When you work in a club, you never expect anyone to treat you nice because you feel so low about yourself.”  Her favorite verse which is tattooed on her foot is

2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we live by faith, not by sight.”

 

Ashley often quoted “I am not an object” when she was working in the club but her job required her to be an object for someone else to take advantage of….. but now she says, “I don’t feel like an object anymore. When you are in that industry you are not a person. You are not a girl. Just an object.”

It has not been easy. She has humbled herself to get food from church pantries and sell other people’s throw away stuff to make enough to help pay the bills. She can’t spoil her children anymore or buy expensive make up. But she is doing it. One yard sale item at a time she is  taking care of her children with the help of her boyfriend and parents, who are very supportive of her.  After being in an industry that is all about money, sex and drugs she has discovered that giving back has a much bigger impact on her than anything else ever did. In the midst of her own struggle I have seen her become one of the most generous and giving people I know. She attributes it all to how God has changed her because she could not have done this on her own. He rescued her from darkness and brought her into light.

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I have told Ashley several times that although I keep a healthy distance between me and the women I help, she is different. She and her family have moved from being a friend to someone I consider a part of my own family. Her tenacity and her endurance amaze me and I often think she is teaching me way more than I am her. People like Ashley change those of us who are willing to give them a chance. Our lives are richer because we see a strength that we have never known in ourselves.  It is turning pain into purpose. Shifting from surviving to truly living. You can see it in her face, the way she carries herself, but most of all you can see it in her eyes. She has come alive again.

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Pain, Purpose, and Compassion

 

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Today I have struggled. Struggled with my own insecurities.  Struggled with mean, insensitive remarks from a stranger. Struggled with missing my best friend because we are always busy. Struggled with watching my friends deal with deep pain and hurts. Struggled with a friend who lost her dad. Struggled with feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. So what did I do? Cry all afternoon. Cried by myself and cried with four different people.  I was only awake for 14 hours. How so much pain and suffering?

Why tears?

I am one of those people who often cries at the sight of someone else’s tears. I guess it does not do wonders to make the person feel better when they have to offer ME a tissue. Now keep in mind I live in the land of boys and men….who don’t cry often. We do have the occasional moments of emotion but not like my estrogen infested self.

One of my sons literally walked in my room today while I was curled up in the fetal position boohooing, carried on an entire conversation with me about where one of the cats was, and walked out. REALLY?? No clue.  The others just look at me with a glazed over, what-do-I-do-now expression of helplessness. As baffled as they are about me, I am not sure what to do with dry ice exploding, lizard torturing, snake handling slobs so I guess we are even. Somehow in the crazy world, we make it work. I decided that when they are being crazy I can hide in the bathroom and pretend I know nothing and they can eat a cheeseburger when I am crying at a commercial and we can carry on. Disclaimer: I have very sensitive boys when I let them in on something  sad and tragic and they are very compassionate…but when it is a case of I-am-crying-because-of-the-state-of-the-world they really don’t have a category and I would rather cry into my blanket than explain what I don’t even understand for myself.

So as I try to make some kind of sense about my highly emotional self,  I seek Scripture.

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”

Romans 12:15-16

First God says to embrace our friends’ happiness. That is the easy part. We all want to be around the people whose lives are going well. But what about the friends struggling, wandering, falling, and grieving? The friends who needs love from us when we don’t know if we have it to give? God says, “Share tears when they’re down.” Sometimes we have to engage in a cry fest together and we can’t even determine what are tears for us and what are for the other person.  That is the heart of God-sharing our burdens one to another and to Him.

The next part of that verse that tells us to get along with each other and “don’t be stuck-up.” What is worse than sharing your burdens with someone who acts as if she has it all together? It is horrible! And if I make the mistake of doing it once I certainly don’t do it twice. If we are not in tune with our own brokenness people avoid us and are fake around us. And a lot of people are good with that. Let’s face it- most people don’t want to hear other people’s problems because it might actually remind them that they have problems too. So relationships are then shallow and superficial so that emotions are not felt and both people lose out in that “friendship.”

“Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” That sounds like my new tattoo. But seriously. It is such good, rich words! I am not a theologian and I don’t know any of the Bible in Greek (except the Greek alphabet from being in a sorority) but I do know this:

Make friends with nobodies. Don’t be the great somebody.

Now that I can do. Don’t need a concordance or a theology class to go love somebody who is broken and hurting. I know how to do that because I am broken and hurting.  A lot. If I don’t know my own pain how can I know someone else’s? And the part about not being the great somebody….I think that means we need to stop thinking that we are the answer to people’s problems.  Jesus is. As we lead people to the cross, we lead them to healing. Divine healing.

So this week I may be a slobbering, hot mess and if you are too….call me. We can be real and honest together. If you want a put together friend with all the answers….don’t call me. You will just be disappointed. When we all realize we are broken and learn to love because of it, NOT in spite of it…we will share kindness like we are made of it. I think I stole that from Bob Goff but it’s ok because LOVE DOES.

Pain into purpose and then always comes compassion.