help, Loss, My Walk, Relationships

SOLD!

Recently my mother sold the house where I grew up. This may not seem like a big deal, and months ago when she made the decision it wasn’t. Unfortunately, like with many events in my life, the true feelings didn’t become noticeable until much later.

Suddenly, today, my heart is breaking all over again.

The house–a mere pile of wood, cement, and nails– where my father and I discussed books over tea in the cool and quiet of the (always partially finished) basement, belongs to someone else.

No matter where I went, or what happened in my life, that man-made structure with forest surrounding it was my constant. I knew it would always be there, and I’d always have a place to return to.

The house already looks different. My mother, sister, and brother, have spent countless hours updating it, fixing it, and making it perfect for the new family to live in. The basement (which is finally finished) isn’t my father’s anymore. His books no longer line the walls, his cat no longer curls up in his chair, and his tea and teacups are no longer on the mini-fridge.

I know it doesn’t make sense, but knowing the house will no longer be the place I call home, feels like the death of my father all over again.

My mother doesn’t need that large of a house, and she’s already purchased her new home. One where she will undoubtedly be happier, and where she can make new memories. It’s funny how I can be happy for her while I still feel like I’m being buried alive by my own sorrow.

Today, turning to the LORD hasn’t been as spiritually lifting as it usually is. Instead of answers I have more questions. Instead of peace, I have unstoppable tears.

Good thing He is stronger than my doubts. His love is deeper than my sorrow, and I know that even though things aren’t clean and clear at this moment, tomorrow is another day, and He will still be there, offering His peace, joy, and comfort.

May God’s light shine on you today, and every day.

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education, encouragement, Faith, Fellowship, God's Beauty, help, journalism, Motherhood, Relationships, Trafficking, volunteering, Wisdom, Working

Sex Trafficking and the Invisible Victim

This isn’t my usual blog post style, but as I walk with the LORD, the harsh realities of this mortal world hit me. Today, and everyday, let’s pray for these women and children.  If you don’t share anything else, share this.

Walking down a dingy city street, people tend to keep their heads down. They try not to make eye contact with the scantily clad women offering ‘a good time’ to passersby. To many these women aren’t even people. They’re not worthy of acknowledgement, let alone concern. The common belief is women who are on that street chose to be there, and they could leave at any time. The truth is, many of these women are still children who are condemned for making a life altering choice when they’re not even old enough to vote. Society has many names for them; “hookers”, “hoes”, and “prostitutes”. Somewhere, someone once called them “sister”, “daughter”, or “mother”. Our communities should call them victims.

Human Trafficking is the illegal movement of people, for the purpose of forced labor or sexual exploitation. This occurs daily, both internationally and within the borders of the United States. Between January 1, and December 31, 2014 the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) received reports of 5,040 cases of human trafficking. 1,581 of those cases involved children, and 974 of those involved sexual exploitation.

In a story covered by the Seattle Times, the FBI rescued 105 victims of sex trafficking and arrested 150 pimps in 76 cities in a three day period during July 2013. Almost all of the girls ranged from 13 to 17 years-old.  Although the majority of the girls were rescued from the larger cities of San Francisco, Detroit, New Orleans, Milwaukee and Denver, the under-age sex trade isn’t exclusive to large metropolitan areas.  Trafficking happens everywhere, but because the public is unaware of the red flags, it goes unnoticed.

Victims don’t always appear to be in need of rescuing, but are in danger just the same. If you or your friends begin dressing less appropriately than before, have unexplained absences from class, show signs of sexualized behavior, display expensive clothing or accessories, has an older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle, or shows signs of gang affiliation those may be warning signs connected to sexual exploitation.

According to recent arrest records in Kitsap County [Washington], 32-year-old  Ricky Lee Grundy Jr. was arrested on charges of Promoting Commercial Sex Abuse of a Minor, Human Trafficking, and Organized Crime. The records indicated that at the time of Grundy’s arrest he was using Backpage.com to prostitute a 14-year-old and 15-year-old out of a hotel in Port Orchard, a city with only one high school and a population of less than 13,000.

When asked how many minors are affected in the Kitsap County community, Sandy Hill of Freedom13.org said, “You know, it’s hard to get accurate numbers, because the law does try to protect them [the minors].”

Traffickers select and groom their victims by finding them at malls, coffee shops, arcades parks, or walking down the street. Any place that young children and teens hangout is prime hunting ground for these men and women. In many cases, traffickers will use young men and women in the same age group as their targets to build trust and create relationships. They’ll approach the children, and strike up a conversation asking pointed questions about their age, family, school, and what their schedules are like.

Children and teens are often easy to manipulate, because they’re young and inexperienced. Their relationships with their parents are either strained or broken; many feel their parents don’t understand them, and their opinions don’t matter. Traffickers know this and use it to their advantage. They offer these girls their youthful dream of family and acceptance, and once the girls have bonded with them, it is a slippery slope into the sex trade.

Sexual exploitation comes in many forms. The women on the street corners selling sex are most often the victims of trafficking. The looks-too-young-to-be-eighteen woman dancing in that club is also likely to be a victim of trafficking, and is too young. Massage parlors and topless barista shops have also been found to be one-stop shops for underage, trafficked girls. The “barely legal” actresses on pornography videos are also potentially the victims of trafficking.

While the girls and women appear to be doing this work by choice, the reality is much different. They’re dancing on that stage, standing on that street corner, or waiting in that hotel room, because they have been emotionally and physically convinced that is what they are for. In their minds they are only worth the money they make for their pimp. In other cases, these girls belong to a gang, and consider their traffickers as family, while they’re sold and traded like property. These girls and women have twisted understandings of what love is. Others are just afraid, because they have been controlled by blackmail and threats involving either bodily harm to themselves or to younger siblings.

We as a society are guilty of perpetrating the victimization of these women and children. Sharedhope.org states that “online pornography is driving the explosive growth of child sex trafficking.” Child pornography has become more than a $3 billion annual industry, and statistics from Demandingjustice.org show 1 out of every 5 pornographic images is of a child; and 55% come from the U.S.

In Washington State the sentences handed down for offenders who are caught purchasing sex with a minor are a minimum of two years, but a recent Seattle area study showed the average offender spent 0.6 years behind bars, and 30% of the offenders received suspended sentences.  However, Washington State is improving. In 2010 the state legislature passed the bill SB6476, revising provisions related to sex crimes involving minors. Since then the penalties for trafficking and purchasing minors has increased. SB6476 imposes the impounding of vehicles used to commit commercial sex abuse of a minor; defendants can no longer claim they did not know the victim’s age; minors are consistently defined as anyone under 18-years-old, and the victims have access to special services and shelters they otherwise did not have.

Human trafficking happens anywhere there are people, and the victims are often far from home unaware of where to go for help. There are victim services located all across the nation, specializing in victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. Several in Western Washington include: Scarlet Road in Bremerton (scarletroad.org), a non-profit organization helping victims in Kitsap and Mason Counties; Rebuilding Hope Sexual Assault Center in Tacoma (sexualassaultcenter.com) works with victims in Pierce County; and the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (seattleops.org), a non-profit organization working with victims in King County.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking in Washington State, there is help. Contact Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN) at 206-245-0782.

encouragement, Faith, God's Beauty, Homeschooling, Loss, My Walk, Parenting, Relationships, Wisdom

Father’s Day and Healing

Three days ago we scattered my father’s ashes in the Puget Sound. A place he’d always loved. The week leading up to the memorial was rough and emotions ran high with everyone. I wanted nothing more than to forget about the whole thing and keep my father’s ashes on my shelf, because as soon as they were removed from their place of honor, lonliness enveloped me. He’d been there since February, a constant companion in my home. It was time to let him go, but I wasn’t sure I was ready.

At the approximate time the sun would have been setting, had the rain not decided to join our tears, we said a final goodbye to the man who had taught us so many things. There was laughter amidst the inappropriate humor my father was so used to from my sister Rae, and me. As she shared her memories, it occured to me that my father was a wonderfully flawed person. He swore, he drank, he was selfish, and was always impatient. I realized much of my personality came from him. Many of my strengths and many of my weaknesses were nurtured and ingrained at his knee. My father made many mistakes in his life, but one thing he did that wasn’t a mistake, was loving his children inspite of our differences, and sometimes because of them.

With that knowledge, it was important to remind myself that we all grieve differently, and that emotions are strong factors in the way we react to situations. That night wasn’t about who we were, it was about who he was. There was no right or wrong way to memorialize him. Whether it was drinking a bottle of wine in his memory as the rain poured down, or closing off from others and holding inside whatever emotion was burning the heart. We needed to set aside our various differences, ignore the typical family dynamic and just be there for one last moment with the man who had raised us in the only way he knew how.

After the others left, I sat on the bench beside the water with my dear friend. We watched otters play in the current, and I cried. Big, ugly, body wracking tears. For months there had been a pain inside my heart that couldn’t seem to heal. It was like a splinter left just beneath the surface, and it was festering as the days went on. I didn’t realize it, even as I sat there, that the healing had finally began. For the months since my father passed, I was in a holding pattern, not really grieving, but not really healing either.

Three days before Father’s Day, the proverbial splinter was finally removed, the wound cleaned, and my body and soul could really begin to heal.

When Sunday arrived I was leary of attending church. It was my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was concerned I’d break down and not be able to stop. In fact, I almost decided not to go, to stay home and be safe from the emotions, smiles, and warm wishes of others.

Instead, I prayed.

Then I put on my big girl pants and joined my family in church.

It was a wonderful day. The words were exactly what I needed to hear, and my heart didn’t ache. For the first time in months I didn’t feel like I would get blown away in a stiff breeze, or shatter like glass. I felt free. With the scattering of my Father’s ashes, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. My Father is truly at peace now, and even though I might not be completely there yet, I am on my way. My heart is light and I am filled with the Joy of the Holy Spirit.

Life moves on and changes, much like the tides of the sea.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy and may you forever be at rest in the place you loved best.

Sare

encouragement, Faith, Fellowship, My One Word, My Walk, Relationships, Wisdom

I’m Struggling

I knew when I started this journey it wasn’t going to be easy, but somehow I didn’t expect it to be quite so difficult either. My love and Faith in God isn’t wavering–it’s growing deeper and stronger– but I’m floundering. For every step in the right direction I take, I seem to take a hundred steps back the way I came. I don’t want to be the person I was. I didn’t like her much then, and I’m really not a fan of her now.

Why is this change so hard?

The struggle to be a better person, a nicer person, a more caring person it is real. Being selfish is easier. Being selfish is what I’ve always known. In my heart I can see myself going out of my way for others, joining groups to help the needy, being available to help at a moments notice, and always giving of myself. The reality is nothing like that.

My reality has me shying away from groups, and anything that takes me out of my comfortable and set routine. Where I was drawn to be involved a year ago, now I find myself pulling away, putting up invisible boundaries and refusing to cross them.

I want to be able to minister to others, to share my testimony, but I don’t know how. Do I even have a testimony anymore? Can someone as selfish, angry, and negative as I seem to be, really have a joyful testimony of our LORD to share with others?  I’m at a loss for what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m desperate and feeling lost and lonely. I turn to the LORD at every crossing, worship Him with gladness, but still I feel like I’m sinking deeper into some dark void, and I don’t know how to get out.

This year’s One Word is Fellowship– a word I know I’m supposed to learn from. The LORD has a plan, and I just don’t know what it is, but I feel like I’m failing Him. Four months into the year, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t done a whole lot in moving forward with Fellowship, it almost feels like I’m running away from it instead.

Again, I feel like I’m in that dark pit.

Prayers would be appreciated.

Sare

Fellowship, My One Word, My Walk, Wisdom

(Kind of) Navigating Friendship

I firmly believe the LORD places people in our lives for a number of reasons. We may never understand what those particular reasons are, but as Faithful followers of Christ, we take it on Faith (or at least try really hard to). We trust the LORD, because we know He has it all figured out (Right?).

Since my word this year is Fellowship, I’ve been contemplating friendships: how they’re formed, how they’re nourished, and how they fade away. I’ve never been someone with a large group of friends. Even in school, I preferred the company of a single person to a crowd. This hasn’t changed in the years since I left the halls overcrowded with teenage angst, overlapping voices, and the slamming of lockers (and do I need to mention the overpowering smell of cologne and body spray?).

Making friends also isn’t what it used to be. I’m no longer forced into situations where friendships are made simply out of necessity. I am no longer trapped inside a building for eight hours a day, sharing experiences with the same people hour after hour, bonding over a shared desire to grow up.

No, now I am that grown-up. I’m voluntarily in a home all day long with my children, and when possible, my husband. I’m not sharing in misery, I’m sharing in love and a desire to grow together.

Without the forced interaction, making friends is hard. Friendship is no longer about shared boredom, but about responsibility. Being friends isn’t just about seeing someone during classes, at lunch, or in the hallways. Friendship as an adult requires effort. It requires a deeper bond, and the understanding that you may go long periods of time without seeing each other, because you’re adults with responsibilities that take you on different paths.

Several years back God introduced me to one of my nearest and dearest friends. It was completely by chance we ever met. I was in California and she was in Washington. We met through an online writer’s group, and we often joke about it being the only time online dating ever worked (Love you, Babe!). She now lives in Hawaii with her new husband (one of my few friends from high school), and her three children. I’m of course, back in the PNW. Though we see each other rarely, our relationship remains intact. Our lives have taken us in drastically different directions, and on paper we shouldn’t match up, but God knows what each of us needs. Without even realizing it, she helped me to acknowledge God and to understand He was calling me. I’ve never told her I feel she was placed in my life to help me be the person I am today, and I’d like to think the LORD has used me in her life as well.

As I grow and change each day, I look for new opportunities (and often have to force myself into them) to meet people who may change my life in some way. I keep my heart open so I don’t miss the subtle signs God gives me that may lead me to someone who will become one of those few friends I cherish.

Of course, even with God’s grace and love, these opportunities always scare me. The shy girl I thought I left in junior high wants to come back. I start questioning everything I say. Did I just sound really dumb? Man, I should have dressed differently. I don’t fit in here. I have nothing in common. I’m so new to being Christian, what if I say something that completely labels me as some kind of fraud?

Okay, so in some cases making friends as an adult brings you right back to those terribly awkward teenage years. Or, maybe that’s just me.

I’ve met some amazing people in the last year, and especially in the past three months. I still have moments of discomfort and shyness, but more often than not I look forward to seeing them and getting to know them. Most of the time when I’m with them I’m able to relax and not wonder if I’m going to say something that will make me the social pariah. I’m a work in progress.

What it really comes down to is I NEED to trust in the LORD. I NEED to trust His work in others the same as I trust His work in me. None of us are perfect, and it is possible some of them are as hesitant as I am when it comes to meeting people and letting them into the heart.

Until next time, may the LORD bring peace to your life,

Sare