Lessons from goddess Glennon Doyle

Do the next right thing, choose the next right person.

If you want to grow, serve the ones you have.

Figure out what it is that makes you wanna stick forks in your eyes and don’t do that thing!

Make whatever boundaries you need to make so that you don’t quit.

“Do whatever it is that I need to do today so that I don’t quit”

Figure out what kills you and don’t do that thing.

RESPECT THE DREAM!

Everything beautiful in the world is created by people who are not ready.

“Write like you’re being paid until someone pays you” -Mark Twain

Each day you figure out what your values are and then you match up those values to your hours.

Figure out what your daily job is and show up for yourself every single day.

Be an artist, don’t be a babysitter (of your art).

WATCH the video below for more yummy lessons from the video I pulled these from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upqNHz4RSSc

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When Darkness Invades

I was in Mombasa when I got the call. From the other end of the phone “Sarah is missing”. I didn’t even blink. I thought for sure my daughter was just misbehaving, maybe ran off with a boy somewhere, or running away because she didn’t want to go back to school since it was the first day back to school. I continued with my day as usual, taking the other kids back to school and flying back to Nairobi. But then when it started getting dark and she still wasn’t home was when I began to get scared.

A week ago my daughter was abducted right off the street we live on. The supposed “safe” street that I’ve walked down a million times. She was abducted, drugged, and then held in a trafficking ring for 2 days. I had no idea where she was. It was the most terrifying experience as a parent. I was afraid she may be dead. The first night I slept on the couch, as close to the door as I could, just hoping the bell would ring and it would be Sarah. Two days later I got a text message saying “Mum it’s Sarah. Don’t call. I’m in trouble. I need help”. We continued to text and through her texts I learned about what had happened to her and the hell she was living. That’s when shit got real to me. The search was on. It was even more painful for me to be in contact with her and hear what was happening to her and not be able to do anything about it. As a parent you want to protect your kids. Not being able to do that was so hard.

Eventually Sarah escaped and after jumping through lots of hoops, she is safely home with me. I thought when she was finally home with me the hell would be over. No. She’s completely traumatized. She won’t even sleep in her own bed. She sleeps next to me every night and spends most of her days in my bed.

I am writing this because my therapist told me that I need to process what happened instead of trying to be so strong and trying to escape reality. So this is an attempt to process what I experienced and what I am feeling. My house feels full of weight, especially my room where Sarah is. It just feels heavy and dark. I sage, I diffuse oil, but her sadness is stubborn. So of course I am experiencing vicarious trauma. As her main support, a lot of her emotions fall on me and I have been absorbing them. I feel like I need a bath to wash off all the pain and trauma. I feel like there’s a shell around me and I need someone to crack it open for me.

The past several days I have just been running away trying to pretend this didn’t happen. But it did. And it makes me really fucking angry. I was in such a good space before this. I was so happy. I have plans for the next few months that will make me happy. But this awful thing has just come in and destroyed all of that. I want to feel better. I want my baby to feel better. I want this to be over. But one step at a time. And me actually writing this is the first step. Sarah is going to therapy and going on her own healing journey as well. I can’t let this awful thing completely ruin everything. Light overcomes darkness. So I am going to keep praying, keep thinking positively, fight for my joy, do yoga, burn my sage and incense, diffuse my oils, write, meditate and use all the tools I have to overcome horrible tragedies like this one. Eventually the light will overcome. Jesus. Jesus will overcome and bring peace and joy. Eventually i’ll be able to feel more and even tell the story. Eventually I won’t be angry anymore. But one step, one step at a time.

 

Letting Go

I just listened to a talk on reaching for your mediocrity instead of trying to be the best. It also talked about not letting your dreams ruin your life. I know, it sounds depressing. But it was actually a  really freeing experience for me. For the past 5 years I have been striving so hard for greatness, to achieve my dreams- even at the cost of my own health and relationships. We are at a hard time in Art and Abolition (my non-profit that I have given my life to). We have been through hard times many times before but I always push through and work really hard to keep us going. The issue is money. The issue is alway money. Raising 11 children (soon to be 22) is not cheap. School is expensive. Housing is expensive. Therapy is expensive and the list goes on. Because I love my girls so much usually I always figure out a way to hustle and provide for them. But here is the thing…. I’m tired. There is no money for next month and I just don’t have the energy to hustle and raise the $4,000. I’m exhausted. Doing that every month for several years is exhausting. I’m sure all the single moms understand. It’s literally driven me crazy.

So, i’ve decided that I am letting go. I am not going to toss and turn all night trying to figure out a way to raise $4,000 in less than a week.  I’m not going to beg everyone I know to help. I am not going to spend night and day praying to God to please come through. I am just going to do what I am supposed to be doing: resting. If this is God’s work, then God will provide for it without me striving so hard this month. I’m supposed to be on sabbatical for 6 months, but regardless these problems are always brought to me and I am expected to fix them. There’s a certain fire I normally have that this last bought with psychosis and depression just snuffed out and the only way for me to get that fire back is to take an actual break.

So I’m going to try it. My kids may lose their home because of this, some kids may get kicked out of school because their fees haven’t been paid, staff may have to be laid off, but I’m preparing myself for any of it. I can’t kill myself trying to keep Art and Abolition going. Maybe this is the month it all comes tumbling down…. maybe not. Either way, I am letting go and trusting God to sustain me through either situation.

I’m Coming Out

If you are a part of my life in any capacity it’s not a secret that the past couple of years have been a challenge. Let me stop being polite. They have been heart-wrenching. 2016 was one of the most painful years of my life, so much so that at the end of the year I had a psychotic break (scariest thing ever) and was diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I was hospitalized for a while, put on medication, and started taking my therapy more seriously and had a procedure done to treat my PTSD. Several months later I was feeling great so my doctor started weening me off my medication and I thought that was the end of my journey with mental illness.

After reducing the medication to a certain level I began experiencing symptoms of psychosis again (delusion, disassociation from reality, hallucinations, hearing voices) etc  and also became very anxious and fell back into a deep depression. I was hospitalized again but this time I got a more clear understanding of my diagnosis. I never thought I would be saying that I have a mental illness and I honestly feel the shame even as I am writing this. It almost brings me to tears. I am still in a bit of disbelief. But the truth is, I have a mental illness. I have schizoaffective disorder (the depressive type) and because of this my life has to change quite a bit in the next several months, especially in regards to Art and Abolition.

Learning that I have this chronic disease has broken my heart more than the person (people) who triggered the first episode did. I have to give a lot of things up: the ability to live alone, the ability to party like a rockstar, some friendships, most painfully- my current job, and more. But through therapy and prayer I have come out of the place where I feel helpless and hopeless and I now feel like I have victory over my illness. If I continue taking my meds and going to therapy I can live a pretty normal life- I can have a job with Art and Abolition even if it’s in a position that’s much less triggering, I can have a couple drinks even if I can’t party like a rockstar, I can have friends that truly love me and accept even this part of me, and I can still do my art which I enjoy. That can be a life well lived.

Like many of you I wondered, “How did this happen? I was okay my whole life” The truth is (and my really close friends know this) I wasn’t ok. The disease doesn’t manifest until adulthood, but my whole life I have struggled with major depression and anxiety. It is believed that schizoaffective disorder is caused by unresolved trauma that happened in childhood and then something in adulthood triggers it causing psychosis. I experienced some pretty intense trauma in my childhood related to abandonment and rejection as well as sexual abuse. When these two things are triggered in me is when i go into psychosis if I’m not on medicine. I also live in a constant state of deep depression and anxiety as well if I don’t take my meds. I just hide it well when I am in the U.S.

But I am tired of hiding. It’s exhausting. So I decided to just come on out and say it to everyone. I am learning not to be ashamed. Some people have physical illnesses. I have a mental one. Because my job is so triggering I will be stepping down as executive director of Art and Abolition and moving into a different role within the organization.  It is a role I have been so humbled to hold all of these years.

Phew, now all of that is off of my chest…. Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive along this journey for me.

 

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

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 ❤