Tag Archives: God

Let Freedom [Really] Ring.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi's age.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi’s age.

As I watched red, white and blue sparks rain down across the night sky on July 4th, my heart felt like it might burst right along with the fireworks. I am grateful to have been born in a country with as much freedom as we enjoy in these United States, but I find it difficult to stomach the sheer privilege of it all when millions of people can’t begin to imagine what freedom tastes like. An agonized world begging for intervention presses their noses to the window while I watch fireworks and revel in my comfortable, free life. It feels ugly. It demands an unflinchingly honest examination of the way that I spend the days and dollars that I have been given.

Several weeks ago, I read a book called “Sold” by Patricia McCormick. It’s the story of a thirteen year old girl named Lakshimi living with her family in a small village in Nepal. As finances grow tighter and meals become smaller, her stepfather forces her to take a job to support her family. Believing that she is to be hired as a maid in the city, Lakshimi journeys to India where that little girl is hastily sold into the horrific world of prostitution. Her story is searing, heart wrenchingly impossible to read and still, impossible to set aside. I read the book in one sitting, unable to tear my eyes away.

At the end of the book, the author leaves us with this chilling note:

“Each year, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families, intentionally or unwittingly, into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India. Worldwide, the U.S. State Department estimates that nearly half a million children are trafficked into the sex trade annually.

As part of my research for Sold, I traced the path that many Nepalese girls have taken—from remote villages to the red light districts of Calcutta. I also interviewed aid workers who rescue girls from brothels, provide them with medical care and job training, and who work to reintegrate them into society.

But most touching and inspiring was interviewing survivors themselves. These young women have experienced what many people would describe as unspeakable horrors. But they are speaking out—with great dignity.

Some go door to door in the country’s most isolated villages to explain what really happens to girls who leave home with strangers promising good jobs. Some of them—even women who are ill with HIV—patrol the border between Nepal and India on the lookout for young girls traveling without their parents. And some are facing their traffickers in court—where it is often their word against the fathers and brothers, husbands and uncles who sold them for as little as three hundred dollars.”

To whom much has been given, much is required. Those who are free must advocate for those who are not, or I fear that we will look nothing like the Jesus that we claim to follow. Those who have given a voice must speak for those who have none, because freedom rings hollow when the bell tolls for a precious, privileged few. It is our solemn responsibility and sacred privilege to intercede for the broken, and to beg God to move for the orphan, the trafficked, the homeless, the hungry.  We must beg God for justice and then fight for it with our lives. Over the past several months, God has been breaking my heart with the idea that we do not get to call a world full of hurting people our “brothers and sisters” as long as we do nothing. Not when we’d never allow our biological brothers and sisters to go hungry or sleep on the street or be imprisoned in a brothel in India.

Jen Hatmaker wrote a book called Seven [RUN to buy it. It’s ruined my life in the best possible way, and now I’ve got Kellan reading it so it can ruin his too.] and in it, she echoes this tension. She wonders with me,

“What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church Web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don’t feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick or protect the window? Would they see the spending on church builds and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?”

It’s Monday. The sparklers have died, fireworks have fizzled and the grills have been turned off. At the end of this holiday weekend, I am left with the indelible impression that our freedom is cheap if it is hoarded. Jesus entered right into the very heart of our pain and took it from us to set us free. It cost Him everything. How will this change the way that we live?

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Filed under Holidays other than Christmas, Hope, Justice

On Choosing Truth.

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Ian in the red chair.

I am driving three hours to the airport this morning.

Three hours with the windows rolled down and the soothing sounds of James Taylor calling me home to North Carolina.

It’s hardly a road trip, but something in this endless stretch of highway makes me remember. I remember Ian in the red chair on Monday—the last time I saw him before the ICU. Before tubes and sunken cheeks, fluttering eyes and soft, swollen hand squeezes. On that Monday night, there was a big grin and animated talk of the road trip he would make to come see me in Albany. He would come alone, because he wanted to hit the open road unencumbered. Cancer had rendered him house and hospital bound for months, and Ian wanted OUT into the germ-ridden world we’d tried so desperately to protect him from since his diagnosis. We would see a Broadway show, and make a Greek recipe he’d seen on the Food Network during one of his chemo sessions.

I remember week two in the ICU. That dark room where we lived and died by the blue and red numbers flickering and sinking on the black screen by his bed. Hearts sank with them. Pleading, Breathe, Ian. You can do it, buddy! We’ve got this. I’m right here, Ashley’s right here. And still, the dreaded numbers sank.

Sitting beside him in room 17, we’d been tossed a tenuous lifeline of hope that day. I grabbed ahold of it with both hands as I held Ian’s, and with tentative excitement I began to talk about his impending trip to see me. Constraints of the English language make it impossible to describe the sheer relief and joy that flooded my exhausted heart—it was as though I’d spent my whole life holding my breath, and at long last had been granted permission to exhale and breathe in hope. For a few precious hours, I began to believe that Ian would walk out of room 17. There would be a road trip after all, and one day we would incredulously marvel that cancer had once disrupted our lives.

I drive today, and think about how Ian never will again. Last week as Kellan and I prayed together before we fell asleep, he asked God to help my sister in law do well on the LSAT she was taking the next day. Tears burned at the back of my eyes as I thought about all of the prayers I would never pray for Ian. Never again would I get to ask God to help him ace a test, or land a job or please make him dump that girl.

And I thought about the God that heard every tearful plea during those last three weeks in the ICU. Lord, you breathed life into him when you made him–let him breathe now. Heal his lungs. Wake him up, Jesus. Please, let it be me instead. Simple things for the God who created the Universe. Everything to me.

God saw. God heard. God said no.

God said no to a road trip and a thousand secret dreams that atrophied and died with my little brother. I could not understand why a good Father would withhold so much good from me. Why a good Father would stand by and watch as Ian breathed out one last time, and I breathed in an impossible ache that would never, never go away.

God preempted the question my weary heart asked with every painful beat in the book of Matthew. In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus asks the crowd gathered around Him,

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

How much more. As I am violently tossed about in an ocean of unknowns, I cling to what is true. When hearts throb heavy and grief slips out of dazed, exhausted eyes, there is nothing else I can do. Truth is that God is a good Father who is incapable of giving his children anything but good gifts. Even when fish masquerade as snakes, and the searing sting of sin rips through bone and marrow. Truth is that God loved Ian so much that He crushed His precious Son so that Ian might be His. Truth is that Jesus went to the cross willingly, for the joy set before Him. Truth is that that joy was my little brother. It was all of us! In the face of that irrational, relentless, sacrificial love, my paltry offerings are laughable in comparison. I do not get to accuse God, as though I love Ian more. His love for Ian was forever settled at the cross.

As I drive, I do not understand why God said no. I simply fall back on what I know to be true. And I think sometimes, that’s all we can do.

How will you choose truth today?

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Filed under Grief, Hope, Ian