For a Little Girl Named B*

I keep coming across this quote that says, “Your only a writer if you write. Once you stop writing you’re no longer a writer.” Well,  I haven’t written in a long time, so mostly out of fear of no longer being a writer, I’m writing tonight. There couldn’t be a worse time for me to choose to write because when you come from a writing hiatus you are supposed to write something flowery and cute and easy to swallow. Trouble is, my day was all but that. To be honest, my life isn’t that either. My day and my life are what I like to call a beautiful mess. It spills all over the place. It slips into places it shouldn’t. But somehow, it’s still beautiful.

Today I watched hopelessness and hope crash into one another and winced and prayed as I saw hope overcome in what looked like a reflection of my life: a beautiful mess. Today was one of the hard days at work. I don’t have them often anymore because we haven’t done intake in years. So my normal workday is seeing how the hard work of me and my team (and of course the grace of God) has transformed former child victims of sexual violence into young ladies who are survivors and thriving in their new lives. So when I met B (that’s what we’ll call her) today, my heart was confused. It had kind of forgotten how to shatter the way it did as I listened to B’s story. For the past few years I have been listening to young ladies who used to be my little girls tell me of the extraordinary ways their lives have changed since they became a part of Art and Abolition. I have been watching pieces of the monster that is sexual violence against young girls chip away. So when B walked in the room, the monster that walked in with her jolted me and I sat up a little straighter to listen to B’s story. I realized that the monster was still alive and well and torturing this little girl.

B is 8 years old. When it came time to speak my instinct was to say was any person would say to an 8 year old. “What’s your name? What grade are you in? What is your favorite subject in school? What games do you like to play with your friends?” Questions that 8 year old should be asked. But I asked those questions for as long as I could before my social worker chimed in and asked the question I had been avoiding. “So, tell us what happened on that day”. We all knew which day she was referring to. B’s face immediately changed and she started peeling away at a pink pencil in her hands. The pink specks were falling off the pencil and onto her green school uniform.

“That day” B was playing outside… like 8 year olds do, when a man came and lured her and her friends to his house. He enticed them with the promise of rice and meat, things B’s family sadly cannot afford. What started out as a fun afternoon playing with friends quickly turned dark when the man stripped all the girls naked and instructed them to lie down in a line on the ground. As B is telling us this more more of the pink specks are falling down and her skirt is now covered in them. My social worker asks “And then what happened?” B is silent. She doesn’t cry or make a sound. She just chips away at what used to be a pink pencil. Eventually she says, “Alinirape” which means “he raped me” in Swahili. The social worker that is seated next to me expands on the story and tells me that the man lined them up on the floor and then penetrated them one by one. When B was taken to the hospital his sperm was found in her urine. The room went quiet. The only sound was B chipping away at what was now about half of a pencil. Everyone in the room waited with a heavy silence for me or my social worker to say something. But what do you say? “Thank you. I’ll let you know if you make it into the program?”. I couldn’t say that. My social worker, who is obviously much more experienced with hearing these cases than I am went on to ask her more questions like “What happened next?”etc. But I stopped her, and I put my hand on B’s knee. I tilted my head down so I could look into her eyes which were downcast and I said, “I’m sorry”. That’s all I could say. “I’m sorry”. There was so much behind that short sentence. I was sorry she knew what the word rape meant and felt like. I was sorry that she may never feel safe to go outside and play with her friends again. I was sorry that she was raped. I was sorry she couldn’t save herself from the man. I was sorry she had to tell the story to us. I was just so sorry. But I let all of that out in two small words. Then I let the social worker continue with her questions. This is all necessary to make sure the girl fits our criteria for our program. We do these interviews for intake. We are taking in 11 more girls this November and so we are holding interviews with survivors to see who we will choose.

As the social worker continued to talk to B, I stopped listening and started praying. I asked God “Please, let me see what you see” and immediately hope won. I saw B in the future after receiving the therapy and healing she needs. I saw her educated and well dressed instead of in a ripped school inform. I saw her smiling and confident instead of her head being downcast as she peels away at a pencil. There is a whole process that we go through before we accept a girl, but I made the decision then and there that B was going to be accepted into our program. That little girl changed my life. She was so brave. She didn’t have to come for that interview and she didn’t even have to speak. But she did. And not only that, she goes to school everyday and continues with life after experiencing such hell. What a resilient spirit for an 8 year old.

I would love to say that’s how the day ended, but it wasn’t. We then interviewed more girls with equally heartbreaking stories. But for some reason B has stayed with me. There is something special about her. I believe that God is going to use her for something great.

So after a morning of interviews it’s easy to be depressed and overwhelmed by the immensity of this monster. But somehow, God has lifted me above the problem and allowed me to see hope. Restoration. Justice. God has given me the courage to keep chipping away at this monster until it’s completely dead. Me, along with all the other fierce warriors out there fighting this beast. When I got home today I wanted nothing more than several glasses of wine to drown out all the little girls voices that where echoing in my head “alinirape, alinirape,alinirape” (“he raped me, he raped me, he raped me”). But I resisted the temptation to drown it out with wine as I’m trying a lifestyle change challenge that is alcohol free for 30 days (along with sugar, bread and lots of other things I love). So I went to the pool and swam out the voices. I called my pastor and prayed out the voices. I did yoga and stretched out the voices. I sat in mediation and breathed out the voices. They are quieter now. And as I prepare for bed the overwhelming voice I hear is God’s, and the promise that “there is hope!” I get to be a part of that hope and so do you if you join our movement. I’m taking my example from B. I choose to be brave, a survivor, one who speaks out. For B’s sake, and for every girl who experiences sexual violence I will keep fighting for them. That’s what Art and Abolition is all about. Join us. http://www.theartandabolitionmovement.org

Advertisements

Crashing into Rock Bottom

I remember being very young. Not sure of my exact age but maybe 8 years old or so, and having made breakfast for my great grandmother. She was very thin by then with a mouth full of only gums and her gray hair pulled back with a black hair clamp. I couldn’t find a small table to put In front of her chair for her to eat off of so I used the ironing board. It screeched as I opened it and placed it in front of her. When I sat her plate on top of it and moved it closer to her I warned her to be careful because the food was hot. It’s one of my last and most vivid memories of her. As I  was moving the plate, she stopped me. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are special. There’s something different about you. You are going to be great one day.” It’s one of the last things she ever said to me.

I think about that morning and those words often. I feel as though professionally they have come to pass. I believe that Art and Abolition was one of God’s great ideas and God chose to make it a reality through me. Art and Abolition is great just like my Gram said it would be. It gives some of the most marginalized girls the great gift of education, healing, and financial stability. I look at my girls grow and change everyday and I am amazed each time.

But this has come at a cost, and to be completely authentic, sometime I’m not sure I have what it takes to pay that cost. When I am feeling that way I think about the greats who had public flaws and vices but still made huge differences in the world like MLK, Nina Simone, and the like. I know it sounds silly but I do. And usually I do that to console myself because although my great grandma was absolutely right, I have done something great with my life, I struggle in my personal life. And I mean really struggle.

The last 2 years have been the hardest and about a month and a half ago I had a mental break down and had to be admitted to the hospital. I had gone through a series of traumatic events and my body just couldn’t handle it anymore. I was carrying all the weight of doing this work for the past few years which is extremely heavy especially financially, some of my closest friends and support system pulled away from me because of a misunderstanding that happened when a friend of mine came to visit, one of my girls tried to commit suicide, and I went through a really hard break up with someone I deeply love. It was all too much for me. So, I just broke.

I have been diagnosed with PTSD (from my work). That’s not surprising. I fight child rape for a living and am financially responsible for about a dozen children. I’ve also been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and acute anxiety. Also not surprising. Who wouldn’t be depressed and anxious when fighting child rape and trying to keep a dozen kids in school on a shoe string budget?

Before the break happened things got really bad. I am embarrassed to say that I locked myself in my room for about 3 days and did nothing but cry, drink, smoked cigarettes, took sleeping pills, and slept. I didn’t eat. I didn’t talk to anyone. I just sank and sank until I could felt myself crash into rock bottom and took myself to the hospital.

I have been healing now for about a month and a half. It’s still extremely hard, but I am getting better each day. Some days I feel like I am drowning again, lots of days in fact. But the medicine, prayer, meditation, therapy, psychiatry, and focusing on God’s love for me is helping me get better.

Sometimes I get sad because I wish I had gotten help sooner because I feel that my sickness pushed some of the people I love away from me. But then I remember that everything happens at the time it is supposed to.

In about a week I get on a plane to America and will get to see most of you who read this blog face to face. I ask for your grace as I am going through a healing process and am not yet fully myself.

This is as honest as I can be.

Much love,

Brittanie

Find Me In the Lifting

The last several months have been really hard. It seems that the hardness is all I have been talking about/writing about for over a year now. But that’s because it was really fucking hard. But, finally, what I have been praying for has happened. The part where it just gets less hard… The part where it feels like the heavy burden has been lifted… The part where living, where taking the next breath seems totally doable again… The part where the whole Emmanuel (God with us) thing seems like a real thing… That part is finally here. Exhale…

At this time last week I thought I was going to die. Literally. I went for an emergency session at my therapist’s office (not that all my sessions aren’t pretty much an emergency), and she was more direct with me than she has ever been. Almost to the point where I wondered if she had crossed a boundary. She said, “Brittanie, stop talking and listen. You cannot go on like this. If you continue to live this way you are going to die. This work is destroying you. You have been destroyed. You have to choose. Brittanie or the girls. Choose. Choose right now.”

It felt like a brick fell from the sky and landed on my heart. I swallowed hard. Crying was not an option. I didn’t want to give her that much power. I was offended. I was shocked. I was afraid. I was in denial. I wanted to remind her that we pay her $70 per session to listen and not to talk. I was hurt. But mostly it hurt because I knew it was true. So I gave in and let a single tear fall. Surrender… exhale… Then for the first time in what felt like forever, I exhaled, and I said, “You’re right”. In that very moment I decided that I needed to make some drastic changes and made them almost immediately. It was as if, even though they hurt, those words set me free. They gave me permission to save myself from drowning. Before I felt as if even though I felt like I was drowning, that couldn’t really be true. I’m a badass. I’m a soldier. I love Jesus. I don’t drown. So maybe I was making it up. Maybe I was being dramatic. Maybe I was being a baby and needed to stop it and put on my big girl pants. But usually if you can’t breath and the water is rising higher and higher, you probably really are drowning.

I love my children. I love them dearly. But I love me too.

I chose me.

I can’t love them well if I don’t love me first.

So I sat and thought about the last time Brittanie alone was really truly happy. And that was at a time when I didn’t have so much responsibility and I didn’t have so much stuff. It was when I didn’t have to know all the answers. When I didn’t have to come through for everyone. When I could say “I don’t know” and “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you”. I wanted to get back there.

I started with the stuff. I just started getting rid of stuff. I let go of my house. I let go of all my furniture. I let go of some clothes and electronics. “Where will the kids sleep when they come home from school? Where will you live?” Those are the kinds of questions I got as I was doing this. My answer was simple, “I don’t know”. I DON’T KNOW!!! Ah. Every time I said it, it felt as if the load got lighter and lighter.

I then started decreasing the amount of programs we provide for now. I had been trying to offer more help than what was financially and emotionally possible for me to too many people. I put the after school program on hold. I spent several days without stepping foot into our slum. I stayed home and ordered in. I put meetings with children on hold. I let go of some staff. I drastically downsized for a season. And even though that was really hard, it was invigorating. The pressure was off. I had some breathing room.

This is all just the beginning of the “choosing Brittanie” journey, but already I feel so much better. I am rising above the water. I am catching my breath. I am breathing. I am living and not dying. I even catch myself smiling often. For the first time in almost a year today this thought crossed my mind: “I am happy”. I am not happy because of my children. I am not happy because my work is flourishing. I am happy because of Brittanie. I am nourishing Brittanie. And it feels really, really good.

So I have decided to devote the next two months to filling up my emotional and financial bank accounts. I am tired of operating out of a deficit. It’s crushing. What does that mean? I am investing in the emotional well being of Brittanie. I am also spending less time with the girls over these months and focusing on fundraising so that when we resume all of our programing I won’t be distracted by thoughts of “how am I going to feed these kids tomorrow”. So please be praying for me and even join me on this journey. You are so worth investing in!

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

“Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” Isaiah 55:1

This has always been one of my favorite Bible verses, and sums up my time in the States well. This trip has been perfect, exactly what I needed. It has been like drinking from eternal waters after a season of extreme thirst. I came completely broken, weak, with no money and nothing to give, but was honored and feasted like a queen among royalty. Love was poured out on me without measure. I came here feeling like a failure, feeling lost, and feeling completely rejected and unloved. I felt like a throwaway. I was a casualty of war crawling my way up through the rubble. I was grasping for anything that even mimicked genuine love, connection, or comfort. You see- I live in two worlds back in Kenya.

My real life is filled with many good things, but more often than not it’s filled with a lot of pain. Freedom isn’t free. It’s a process. And it costs. So I’m constantly faced with lots of children being raped, non-stop abuse cases, seeing the ones I love suffer extreme poverty, sickness, almost unbearable heartbreak, having to pay staff weather there is money or there isn’t and losing sleep over the stress of that, losing battles I was sure I’d win, and a paralyzing loneliness like I’ve never felt before. So, to escape from all of that, I also have my other life.

My other life is filled with going to the other side of town (the uppity side) to escape it all. I eat good food, drink good coffee and cocktails, hang out with friends and just try to live as close to what I think a “normal” life is. The problem with that is: my life isn’t normal. So when my friends ask “how you doing, girl?” I can never really be honest. I feel awkward and embarrassed to answer that question honestly to a bunch of people my age with “normal” jobs because my answer always feels so much more dramatic than theirs. And I feel like they probably get tired of hearing “I’m really sad because another one of my kids was sold by her mother to a john for less than a dollar” every single time we hang out. So I close myself off, swallow my feelings and try to be normal, and say something like “Oh girl, I’m good! Just tired. Went to sleep late last night.” And I suffer alone.

So when I got to the States I had a belly full of sadness and a deep need for connection and love. I had told God that I couldn’t go on like that and needed to feel His love replace the sadness- the kind of love that makes laying down your life to go into the darkness to lend a hand to children being used as sex slaves so they can use it to pull themselves out seem like nothing. As always, He was faithful.

From the time I got off the plane I have had people hug me and not let go for several minutes. I never get that in Nairobi and physical touch is my love language. I have cuddled with friends on beds and couches as they rubbed my back or stroked my hair and just listened without judgment. I have been taken for countless breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktail dates. Food and drink is my other love language. Strangers have written generous checks to relieve some of the financial stress I’m constantly under. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve brunched. I’ve been showered with “I love yous” and “ you are not alones”. All my empty places have been filled. I feel like myself again. And I am so grateful.

plane pic

Now I sit in the Boston airport waiting to board the flight that will carry me back across the ocean to Kenya. I feel many things. I want to say that I am excited. But the truth is that I am more afraid than excited. I feel so much better and don’t want to go back to being sad again. But what is life for if I just crawl into my Western bubble of comfort and luxury and hide from the scary things in the world at the cost of children’s freedom? My freedom is tied up in my children’s freedom. I’m not free until they are. None of us are free until all of us are. So we must pay the price no matter the cost. I must go to battle even when I know there is a high possibility I will be wounded in it again. But that’s what happens in battle and that’s the price we pay…

So as I board this plane I ask for your prayers. Two big prayer requests:

  1. Comfort and love- that God would comfort me and I won’t feel alone. That I would feel Spirit constantly with me. That when I need the love and comfort of a physical person that I would use technology to reach out to people who genuinely love and care for me and not revert back to looking for comfort in people who are not safe for me.
  2. Safety- please pray for safety as I get back to work. Safety while in the field as well as in our home. Physical and spiritual protection for the girls, my staff, and myself.

I will actually be right back to the States very soon for some meetings, fundraising, and more healing time before my team and I head back into the brothels to recruit more girls in a couple months. So see you all very soon! Thank you so much for such a beautiful time!

Where Are My Clothes?

I’ve been gulping down the words of Rachel Held Evans lately like cool, fresh water after several hours on a crowded matatu in the Mombasa heat. I read both of her most recent books back to back and wept my way through them both. Not the kind of weeping that is for someone else you are reading about, but the immediate kind of weeping that comes when you find pieces of yourself-naked and exposed- splattered across the pages of someone else’s book. How did I get here? And where are my clothes?

Just a year ago I wouldn’t have made it past page one. I wouldn’t have even picked up the book. This book is for people with questions. This book is for “those” people: the ones who don’t really have a clear revelation of who God is. This book is for sinners unwilling to give it all for Jesus and live holy lives. This book is for people who haven’t made it to my level yet. It took some humbling experiences to bring me to the revelation that I am “those people”. Two of my least favorite of those experiences being one: a complete mental and emotional break that left me unable to move my limbs or walk to the toilet. Two: After five years of pursuing “purity” and “waiting for marriage”, waking up one morning in a person’s bed whom I barely knew and having to ask …out loud… “Where are my clothes?”

I don’t know where or from whom I got this idea, but for years I was unconsciously under the impression that following Christ was centered around a ladder in which we climb higher and higher, get closer and closer, go from “glory to glory”. There is no messing up. There is no taking breaks. There is only climbing. I began to believe that western church culture was synonymous with relationship with Jesus. And, although I would have never admitted it because I wasn’t aware of it, I believed that the tight grip I had on upholding the high moral standards I believed God required, kept me on that ladder. I clung to that ladder for dear life by taking in more and more children even when I couldn’t afford to, caring more for others than myself, abstaining from sex, decreasing my use of F bombs, making sure to be home by 7pm every night to have dinner with my kids, trying to be straight, going to a church I hated, etc. And the desire to be loved kept me climbing. I believed deep down, underneath all the clothes, that I had to uphold these high standards in order to experience God’s presence and love for me. So it goes without saying that I was quite shocked at how much I felt His presence and love when I began melting down under all the pressure and spending Sunday mornings in bed watching Scandal and trying to disappear instead of in worship.

I’ve been climbing downwards and closer. The kingdom is upside down after all. It really is an eternal table set up for all the messed up people of the world to feast at. Maybe humility has a way of bringing us closer to the heart of God. Maybe we really do find Him in being “othered”. Maybe all the stories Jesus told were true. Maybe closeness is found in being a runaway like the prodigal son, or a sexual and ethnic minority like the Ethiopian eunuch, or being an adulteress who everyone but Jesus wants to throw stones at, or in being a loner like John the Baptist, or even in being a little ratchet from time to time. Either way, I think I prefer climbing downward and deeper to climbing upward and higher. My legs were getting really tired. But I’m grateful for the fatigue because it has made me desperate again, desperate for God, desperate for closeness to Him. It’s made me aware of my need for Him again. It’s also given me permission to feel again, and feeling is good even when it hurts. I hid in a closet away from emotion for a very long time. Now I’m like a hurricane of emotion. It’s a glorious kind of chaos. The kind that declares “I am here.”

 

I feel like I have been cracked open. Undressed. Freed. I go for runs and push myself a little further each time and allow myself to feel the burn in my chest. I dance alone in my room when no one is watching. I go to church now and allow myself to feel both the passion in my love for Jesus as I worship, and the hot hate for the patriarchal undertones in the sermon. I laugh. Hard. At stupid things because I can feel joy again. I have fallen for a painfully beautiful woman that I know that I can’t have. I allow myself to love her anyway. And I can feel, deeply, both the satisfaction and the heartache this brings. I cry, even when I am not really sure whom or what the tears are for. I feel. I fall. I feast. But I no longer climb.

Turns out that, for me, this whole relationship with God thing is less like climbing a ladder and more like being on a journey. And I don’t get to cover myself up for it. I have to bring all of me-completely exposed, completely vulnerable, stark naked- and allow Love to do whatever Love wants to do with it. And Love always wants to love. But at the times when I forget to believe that, I look down and realize that I am naked and I feel ashamed. And I ask, not sure to whom: Where are my clothes?

I Cry for You, My Sunflower Girl

Lately when people ask me about my work and make statements about it being super depressing and traumatizing I have been countering them with “actually, right now we are in the fun part. It’s really not depressing at all”. It’s true. For the past 3 months or so most of my interactions with the girls have been filled with glee! Lots of laughter, joyful singing and dancing, jokes and poking fun at each other, fun milestones like the first day of school or hearing a girl use her voice for the first time. It has been lots and lots of fun. I was even speaking to our project manager the other day and talking about how we don’t really need to be going for our trauma therapy sessions right now because we aren’t encountering much trauma as a staff in this season. Who needs therapy for “the fun part”? She agreed.

 

Soon after making that statement I found myself sitting across from her in a pile of tears at a booth in a local coffee shop unable to function. Words I’d heard just days before were riding a merry-go-round in my brain and every lap stole my breath and clenched my chest. I was trying to breathe. I kept hearing them over and over. The words of an abusive mother telling her child of how much joy she is going to get from selling her teenage body to men on the street. How she hopes her daughter contracts HIV like she has so she can watch her suffer. Watching this teenager cry and literally beg her mother, “Mummy please. Please love me. I’m sorry”. When I got into the car instead of letting what happened affect me I held my youngest daughter on my lap and sang silly songs to her. Because this is the “fun part”. I ‘m not sad. No one is sad during the fun part. Days later I’m in tears over a latte in a coffee shop.

 

The next day I found myself thinking about how much I wanted another latte as I was informed that two of our children had been returned to the danger of child sexual exploitation, and moments later when I was having a conversation about the possibility of losing them forever I found myself unable to stop thinking about what I wanted to eat for dinner. Coffee, food, anything but sadness. This is the fun part.

 

Today, the day before we hand them over to child protective services, the day that “Ima” (not her real name) prances around my house in a sunflower-yellow dress dancing to freedom songs, I find myself unable to cry, unable to admit the reality of what is happening. I just keep making myself more cups of coffee and totally avoiding the reality of it all. Cus we are in the “fun part”. 9-year-olds in sunflower dresses aren’t raped in the fun part. I don’t have to hand 2 children whom I have loved like my own for 8 months over to the authorities not knowing if I’ll ever see them again in the “fun part”. There’s popcorn in the fun part. And sleepovers. And rape-free homes and reconciled families.

 

But once again I re-learn the hard lesson that as survivors we aren’t working towards arriving. We aren’t working to arrive at healing or arrive at the fun part where reality no longer exists and everything is as yellow as Ima’s dress. We are journeying. We, they, my children are journeying toward justice and healing. There is no pressure to arrive. The journey is the goal, not the arrival. And sometimes the journey includes 5 days of being held in a man’s house, then rescued and handed over to child protective services. Sometimes it looks like me only being a part of their journey, but not having the joy of seeing them throughout it. It’s heartbreaking, completely heartbreaking. But the tears don’t come as much as I will them to. So I write.

 

I write this to say the things I can’t yet say out loud. To see my current reality, which is currently so intertwined with two children I love very much, spread across a page. To share our reality with this page in hopes that it being so close to my face will cause me to look it. Really look at it. Which allows the tears to come. Looking truth dead in the face has a way of freeing my tears. This comes along with the familiar feelings of “I don’t want to get out of bed today” and “I don’t want to talk about work I just wanna lay in bed and watch New Girl” and “ I really just want to go home to America for a while and do anything but talk about child rape”. But since none of these things bring justice to a crooked world, I allow myself some time for them, but then I do climb out of bed, open my computer and type truth til it’s staring me dead in the face and causes tears to come. Then I close this computer, cry it all out to God, hear Him tell me it’s worth it. Each of these girls are worth it. Justice is coming and every one of my tears brings us closer to it. I cry it out. Then I choose which dress to wear tomorrow as I say goodbye to my precious sunflower girls ❤

God of the Messy

I can’t put this book down even though every time I read another page I feel myself becoming increasingly offended. Again, God is doing that thing where he does open heart surgery on me and removes the Gospel of Brittanie and replaces it with the Gospel of Love, Christ himself. It’s offensive, annoying, and doesn’t make any sense.

As a child I was always the kid who needed everything to be fair and right and just. If I put a popsicle in the freezer one day and came back the next and it was gone, World War 3 would break out in my mind. “Nooooo! This is not right! That popsicle was mine. Someone stole my popsicle. They stole it!” I would lie on my bed, tears soaking my sheets, muffling my screams with my pillow, and wail at the injustice of my stolen popsicle. I wanted someone to pay. I wanted someone to be punished. “How dare you steal from me”? This kind of thing could keep me upset for days… seriously. And honestly not much has changed. Nowadays, when I go to visit a young girl in a village here in Kenya and the neighbors tell me she has been sold off to marriage, I don’t publically melt down in a puddle of rage and heartache like I used to about popsicles, but oh in my mind! In my mind the same script plays. And when I get home to my bed and lie on my face before my God, I wail. “It’s not right. They sold her. That’s illegal! That’s slavery! She wasn’t their possession to sell. This is unjust. Someone must pay for this!!”

I now realize, it never really was about the popsicle. It was always about the injustice. Injustice literally makes me sick. Being sickened by injustice is not a bad thing, but being obsessed with things being “right” is fatal, especially when you are the thing you want to be “right”. I have been trying really hard to stay “right” for several years now, but proclaiming that it was all grace. And it turns out, that too makes me sick.

I have been on a spiritual journey my entire life. Even as a young kid, I was always hungry for God, desperately needing for Him to be real, for Him to be present. I remember periods of my adolescence when I had waves of deep spiritual experiences which caused me to want more and more of God even when I was acting a ratchet mess. Back then of course the only image of God I had in my head was an authoritative man in the sky with rules you must follow if you want Him to think you’re good and therefore love you. So I remember during these times where I would go through these waves of deep spiritual experience it was always with a striving to be good. The problem was, I didn’t like myself and thought that I wasn’t good, so I had to try extra hard to be good to cover up the truth that I was indeed bad. I thought I was bad for many reasons. I thought I was bad for being born. I thought I was bad for “breaking up my family”. I thought I was bad because a caretaker back then would always start my day off with me being naked, and her spanking me with a belt to say “good morning” and as punishment for wetting the bed. I thought I was bad for wetting the bed every night, which I later learned, is totally normal for children who are being sexually abused. I thought I was bad for being so social and having so many close friends, I was also bad because no matter how many “pray the gay away” conferences my best friend at the time would sneak me away to I was still attracted to girls and being gay was bad.

In 2010, while in South Africa, I had the most impactful spiritual experience of my life. I met Jesus. Not the fake one I thought I had to chase after and be good for. The real, real Jesus who came down with me into all of my mess and all of “badness”, and looked at me and said “You’re perfect. I love you”. His words melted all else away and I felt free and good and beautiful. But something happened after all of that…

I turned the Jesus that came into all my mess and called me perfect, into a Jesus who requires perfection. It’s humiliating to admit, but I totally became one of those people. You know, one of those people we all secretly hate. Let me be honest, I still am, and I am writing this as part of a journey of trying to come out of that.

I have had trouble really connecting to God for several months now and it’s really been breaking my heart. All of my close friends who pray have been praying the same prayer for me for these past several months- a prayer for “intimacy with God”. Well, be careful what you pray for. For the past few weeks God has began to answer that prayer and I realize that as I have matured and as my work has grown, the “snap your fingers then Jesus shows up and makes bad people good like He did me” theology just isn’t true. It wasn’t God I was feeling far from after all, it was my effed up theology that I didn’t even know I had.

So now I am reading this book that is really offending me in all the right ways and causing me to really dig deep in my search for the truth. I realize that every Bible passage I read and every sermon I listen to and every word I think I hear Holy Spirit saying to me is colored with my own add-ons and baggage and mess that I bring to the table. When I was in my know-it-all Christian phase I would never even allow myself to believe that I came to the table with mess and baggage and add-ons because I’m just so super spiritual and “free”. But, one thing my work has taught me is that I, like Jesus, can’t be afraid of mess and baggage. Having it doesn’t make me any less free. The pressure of convincing myself it’s not there when it’s smelling up the whole room is crushing. And, I need to believe that Jesus is still the God who comes to me in my mess like He did in South Africa and says, “You’re perfect, and I love you”. When I’m struggling with feelings of rejection and loneliness I need those words from Him. When I am having graphic nightmares of a father figure coming into my room at night and crawling in bed with me, pants unzipped, and I feel like it’s all my fault, I need to hear those words from Him. And not only for myself, I need those words for my girls. When one them royally screws up and steals money from my room or tries to stick a butcher knife through her sister’s heart when I am not home, I need to be that voice of the God who loves the messy, not that reminds her of the lie she already believes, “you’re bad”. When one of my daughters goes somewhere shady with a shady boy and comes back the next day raped and heart broken believing it was all her fault, I need to be that voice for her. Here, in my world, I need the Jesus of the messy. I need Him to be the one that shows up in the darkness. I used to think that Him showing up looked like me having a crazy vision in the middle of a brothel of God coming in and lifting all the girls out, or when I am listening to another child tell me her rape story from last week, hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit say, “I was there. And my heart breaks for this child even more than yours does”. All of those things are great, like super amazing and awesome and I loved when that used to happen all the time. But, that’s just not what’s been happening for me in this season. I am learning that God “showing up” also sometimes look like me, or my girls sitting in our mess and striving to get out because we are so “bad” and desperately want to be good. Then Jesus comes, and weather He performs some great miracle to set us free from what we think makes us so messy and unapproachable and bad or not, Him looking at us and saying, “You’re perfect, and I love you”.

I thought I had all the answers, but I don’t. I am sorry to friends and family members who I pushed away or hurt when I was unintentionally preaching the “Let Jesus make you good because you are bad and need fixing” theology to everyone. I don’t believe that anymore, or at least I am trying not to. As I said in the beginning, I have been on a spiritual journey my whole life, and I pray that I never again make the arrogant mistake of thinking I have arrived at the end, but always stay humble and be willing to let Him walk into a whole new pile of my mess I didn’t even know I had again and again everyday.

What I really mean by “jet lagged”

I’m running several hours late for my first appointment. I keep putting it off. A couple episodes of Grey’s Anatomy ago I woke up in a place that I am not quite sure how to describe. It’s somewhere in between comfortingly familiar and overwhelmingly strange. I am what I can describe best as “home”, Atlanta, GA. The place I spent about 10 years of my life. That’s the longest I have ever stayed in one place. Both of my parents and most of my family are here. So I think the word “home” is fitting. I have been counting down the days until I would wake up here for weeks now. The day is finally here and I can barely pull myself out of bed to greet the day I have been so anxiously waiting for. The excuse I have been using in text conversations with friends and to supporters I promised to meet is the equivalent of the “sorry, I can’t make it in today I am sick (insert fake cough)” for normal people with real people jobs. In my world we say, “ I am sooo sorry. I am super jetlagged and can barely get out of bed. Can we reschedule?”
While on one hand this is totally true, if we dig just a little below the surface I, and anyone else who lives my kind of life, know that jet lag is only part of it. The full truth is more like “I am exhausted. I am in a weird place that is supposed to be my normal. I can’t remember how anything works. All the choices in this place are making me nauseous. I feel like I will stick out like a sore thumb anywhere I go and everyone will think “SHE’S A BASKET CASE! WHY IS SHE ACTING SO WEIRD?! WHERE IS SHE FROM? SHE DOESN’T GET ANY OF OUR JOKES OR REFERENCES. SHE STRUGGLES TO THINK OF WORDS IN HER OWN LANGUAGE! AND SHE PROBABLY HAS LIKE 16 KIDS SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA.” I know. It sounds crazy, but the truth is, I need to reschedule our meeting today because I am both jetlagged and scared shitless to walk out of the door into the big scary world of America and hang out with my BFF Culture Shock.

In the Asking

I am in a season that is new for me. I have never been in this kind of season since falling in love with Jesus. I have been spoiled. I have always been able to just wake up, roll onto the floor, close my eyes, open my heart and call on His Name and my beautiful friend Jesus just walks right in the room and pours out liquid fiery love that I can feel dripping all over me. It’s been that easy. He shows me wonderful and beautiful visions of Himself and His heart and its lovely and mushy and amazing and I always go back for more. Yeah… things aren’t like that right now.

I am in a season where my life is good; probably better than it’s been in a really long time. I am not angry with God for anything (for once). At least I don’t think that I am. But I wake up every morning, roll out of my bed onto my “Jesus mat”, close my eyes, open my heart, call on His name, and… nothing… happens. I don’t see Him. I don’t feel Him. But, I know that He is there. I haven’t had any encounters or experiences lately where He gives me visions of how much He loves me or how excited He is to use me to bring His radical love into the darkest places on Earth. I just know how He feels about me, and His plans for my life. So even though it’s a bit disappointing not to feel or see anything I keep showing up for the date. I keep rolling onto that mat and closing my eyes, opening my heart, and calling on His name because I know that it’s Him that I am after. It’s not the euphoric feelings or the amazing visions and encounters. It’s Him. My bridegroom. So though we are now 4 years into this marriage and sometimes it seems that the honeymoon phase is fading, I know that He doesn’t fade. He doesn’t change. And it’s Him that I’m after, so I keep. Showing. Up.

Right now my life also feels like a really good dream. It literally seems too good to be true, especially when it comes to my work. It’s going so well. I am almost embarrassed to write about how amazing and miraculous it all is because I am afraid of sounding like I just have this awesome life and I’m just so happy all the time. I am not. Trust me. I’m still 100% your normal confused 27-year-old girl. I spend lots and lots of time sad, lonely, insecure, unsatisfied, and crying on the phone to my closest friends about it all. I spend lots of time upset over the things I don’t have instead of rejoicing in what I do. After helping to free 10 girls from sex slavery the other day I came home and cried about how much my life sucks because I can’t be in America on my birthday. Yup. That happened.

I also waste many many hours of my time waiting for the bomb to drop, waiting for it all to come to a disastrous end quickly and painfully. I am constantly just waiting to lose it all and end up with a broken heart again. Because I can honestly say that right now some of my biggest dreams, my deepest desires are being birthed right in front of my eyes. It’s one of those miraculous seasons where I ask God for a dining room table and someone randomly donates the exact amount for the table, or I ask God to use me to end the sex trade in a particular slum and a few months later I am hosting an orientation for former sex slaves in that slum whom we helped to free and their parents (many of whom are also their former pimps). It’s nothing short of miraculous. Nothing short of 100% God.

I went to South Africa to visit one of my best friends a couple of weeks ago and while I was there I read an amazing book by Brennan Manning. I can’t remember the name of the book and I refuse to Google it right now because my internet is sucking today, but it was about how crazy in love God is with us just as we are and not as we should be. It wrecked me for Him all over again. As I was reading the book one phrase stuck with me. I read it and it gutted me right in the heart

“In the presence of the King don’t ask for small gifts” which can also be translated to “In the presence of the King ask for big gifts”

God used that phrase to speak to me about the way I pray and what I pray for, and I believe that this has made space for the new season that I am in. Before I was always afraid to ask God for “big gifts”. I could ask Him for big things when it comes to others. It’s easy for me to ask Him to rescue children, feed the hungry, stop war, or end the sex trade. But when it comes to personal things I always felt silly and selfish asking for what I want so I’d just “humbly” ask for the small things. Well, since reading that phrase I’ve been challenged to ask Him for King sized gifts and I want to challenge you to do the same. I believe that this makes space for our biggest dreams to come true. The King is not poor. He doesn’t lack anything. There is enough to go around! These gifts of course aren’t always tangible. I’m not just talking about “stuff”. I am talking about our God-given desires. What if we started behaving like the sons and daughters of the Most High King that many of us believe that we are? I think it would radically change our prayers and in turn radically change our lives. I believe it may be the entranceway for our dreams coming true. What if we really have not because we ask not? What if it’s all found in the asking?

In the presence of the King don’t ask for small gifts. What is your deepest desire? What big gifts are you going to be asking for?

Light a Candle, Sex for Sale

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Firstly they have been crazy busy. I am so sorry for being so behind on emails, fb messages, voxers etc. I promise to get caught up soon. I read them all and they warm my heart. Just haven’t had time to reply.

They have also been the most joyful and heartbreaking couple of weeks I’ve had in quite a while. I’d say this experience has been very equal parts joyful and heartbreaking. I get home each night and either fall on my bed overcome with tears of gratefulness for the amazing day I had seeing His glory be made manifest in His little princesses’ lives, or I come home and never make it to my bed before I fall to my knees from heart ache as hot tears cascade down my face as I reflect on the horrors I saw that day happening to His precious children- in the brothels, in their homes, in the hidden places. For the past few weeks we have been recruiting girls for our program. We have been looking for children ages 16 and under who, because of poverty and/or pressure from their caregivers, are being forced to sell their bodies for their basic needs like food and school fees. Believe it or not, at first the process was really slow. We couldn’t find any girls who fit our criteria. After so many people had told me about the issues of children being sold for sex in the slums of Eastlands, we looked and looked and looked and didn’t find any. But then we realized we were looking in the wrong places. We were looking in the places we found girls in Mtwapa like popular night clubs and street corners. But all the girls we found there were like 18 and 19 years old. Still horrific and unjust, but not what we were looking for for our program. We went back to the drawing board and after exhausting all other options and almost giving up on Nairobi and deciding to go back to the coast to work, we decided to give it one more try. But this time we decided to break all the rules. We decided to go recruiting in the areas everyone told us was too dangerous and that the girls are “too far gone” and “beyond saving”, the places everyone warned me not to go and where many of our team members were afraid to go. We dedicated one weekend and sent two members of our team in. They went into little hidden brothels, nightclubs, and “guest rooms” really deep inside the slum. By Monday I had interviews set up with 12 of the most beautiful children in Kenya whom she had found there. Some of them were still drunk from the night before and a few quite hungover. One of our team members had literally dragged some from their drunken stupors to our office for their interviews.   I looked at these girls and immediately my heart leapt with joy. I knew they were not “too far gone” or “beyond saving”. They were perfect! They were His! And He delights in them and therefore He WILL rescue them because He promises to. The realization that He decided to use us to do so wrecked me right where I was standing.

Over and over and over in the interviews I held 10,12, and 13 year old girls in my arms as they told me stories of being sold by their parents to men for as little 20 American cents. In the room right next to where I was conducting the interviews the rest of the children were playing games and doing art projects with two of our part time team members who live in Ethiopia, but have partnered with us in this work. Twelve times I went into the other room, called a girls name, she put down her crayons and cup of juice with a big smile on her face, then came into the office with me and one of our community workers and squirmed in her seat as I asked her “who brings money home for food in your family?” Almost simultaneously as the next question fell from lips tears would begin to fall from her eyes. “Where do you get the money from?” I’d ask. “wanaume (men)” she would say as her squirming became more like looking for a way of escape and her tears and snot began to wet her shirt. “Come here, honey” I’d say. I would hold her in my lap and press her head against my chest. It was painfully obvious that these children had never been held before. If your mother is selling you for a bag of flour it’s likely that you don’t often share an embrace. I would hold her and hold her until her body finally relaxed and she blurted out everything between heavy sobs. Time after time these small precious little girls would tell me about how every night their caregivers force them to go out and “find money”. Many of them are violently beaten if they don’t bring home anything. Many of the list of services the girls offered were the same:

One small bag of roasted peanuts: 35 cents

“shika shika” which is where a man can touch the child wherever he wants: 60 cents

sex: anywhere from 20 cents to $1.19

After a full night of “work” these children come home with a little as $3.50 and swollen, painful, infected vaginas. Each time the story was the same. And each time it broke my heart.

But even as I was sharing in the compassion and heartbreak that I know God feels as He also sits with me and listens to these stories, I also shared in His hope. I know its really strange and my whole team was looking at me like I was crazy. But after each session, the more my heart broke the more my joy also increased. I had the gifts of hope and joy so active in me because I could feel God’s presence and I knew that He had bought these girls to me not just to sit and listen to a sad story. But because He has a plan! He saw their suffering and sent people in to rescue them!! He heard their cry and He answered! He is the great rescuer! He is the great emancipator! He come for His children in the dark places!

From that batch of 12 we took 8 into our program. Some of those girls although their stories were completely unjust, didn’t fit our criteria. So what came next for the 8? We have an extensive authentication process that we do in order to make sure that the stories these kids are telling us are true. We do this not only because the stories are so horrifying that they are almost unbelievable, but also because many times children here are so desperate for help that they will say anything if they think they will get a meal out of it. So our recruitment team, social workers, pastor, community worker, project manager, and myself all have different roles in the authentication process where we do random house visits, night visits to clubs the kids work, undercover surveying of the girls as they are being sold, interviews with their caregivers, neighbors and friends, surprise visits to their schools, medical examinations etc etc. We are almost to the end of that process and are about to officially begin our programming in just 2 weeks.

Well… at least that’s how it’s supposed to happen. As you all probably know by now I have the tendency to break rules. Although the programing isnt supposed to officially start for two weeks I have already begun to spend many of my days with these girls just doing life and giving them little pieces of a childhood when I can. We have begun feeding them and having “family nights”  which are so much fun. Our oldest girl is even in our full time care right now because after learning from us about her value and being fed daily she refuses to sell her body anymore so her mother kicked her out of the house. I never mind taking in another one of Abba’s favorite girls, even though my friends always yell at me and tell me we can’t afford it. We can’t. But He can 🙂

So as I said I am wading in the waters of both joy and heartbreak and seeing the fruit of both. The fruit of joy that compels me to love more, to keep going, to get out of bed and work even when I am completely exhausted like I have been for the past week. Its all worth it for the joy 🙂 Also the fruit of heartbreak which compels me to love more as well, especially myself. It compels me to slow down when necessary and even to stop and take a break when I need to. I was hoping to take a little vacation earlier this month, but wasn’t able to. So I am taking one at the beginning of next month. I am so excited. I’ll be traveling to South Africa to see two of my best girlfriends. Spending time with them is always so refreshing. They were both married in December and I was a bridesmaid in both weddings. Im really looking forward to just relaxing and being girly and normal with two of my favorite people on the planet. Balance is so important.

I have also began a ritual of a lighting a candle every night. I light a candle and I unpack my heart. I give back to God everything that doesn’t belong to me: the stories, the responsibility to help all of them, the fear, everything. What a privilege it is to be able to light that candle. As I’m lighting my candle countless girls are preparing for another night of abuse and pain. But that too, I give to Him. He is the savior and I am not. He is the savior an I am not… Amen.

If you would like to donate to the rescue and rehabilitation efforts for our girls you can do so at the following link. Tuesday is the last day to give and we must receive 100% of our $25,000 goal for any of the donations to be processed. We are 72% of the way there. I really appreciate your support . https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/898632450/art-and-abolition-summer-arts-camp