Sunday, December 29, 2013

10 Life Lessons Learned in 2013

"The unexamined life is not worth living".  Socrates

As 2013 ends, I think it is fitting to take the time to reflect on the ups and downs of the year.  And to also reflect on some of the lessons learned throughout the year that we will take with us unto the next year and beyond.

These are the lessons I've learned throughout the year of 2013:

1) Grief does not have to be your end.  After losing my dad at the end of last year, I really thought I didn't have anything else to give to the world and my family but little by little, I started emerging.

2) Don't ever, ever give up on your dreams and life.  Man everything that could go wrong, went wrong in these past few years; financial problems, marital problems, family problems...and every time something else happened a part of me wanted to give up but there was an even stronger part of me that would not allow me to.  Listen to that stronger part and don't ever, ever give up.

3) God is real.  So I vacillate back and forth from doubt to faith but this year God reminded me once again that he is real and present in our day to day life.  Only God could allow me to interview for a job at the airport on my way to Haiti and getting the job that very night while I was in Haiti.  God is real even when he is silent.

4) Letting go of past pains and hurts is something that must be done over and over again.  I have heard many people say that "letting go is an act of obedience and once you let go it's done"; maybe for some it is; for me it has not.  For me it has been a daily process of letting go bit by bit. There are days of revisiting anger, sadness and the pain of loss. The key is to commit yourself to letting go even if it takes a while.  There is nothing wrong with one day at a time.

5) Don't be Afraid of Detours.  So I'm still processing this one but sometimes in life you know exactly where you want to go, God has revealed it to you, you have the skills for it and for whatever reason God says "not yet I want you to spend sometime here first". At first I wanted to fight God and challenge him on that decision but I've learned over the years that God makes no mistakes and to just go with it.  So I'm learning to go with it while at the same time not forgetting my passion and vision.  To Be Continued on this detour.    

6) Preparation is an important part of the process.  Do not skip over this step.  Whether you're an associate, assistant, apprentice, mentee; you're in preparation mode.  Learn as much as you can because you will be called to step up eventually.

7) Perfection is not the goal, stepping out and entering the journey is.  Golly, I tell you, I had it all wrong and this backward thinking held me back for too many years.  If you're trying to complete everything perfectly before you enter the journey, sorry to disappoint you, it will not happen.  The journey will help you hone in on skills and teach you the lessons you lack.

8) You do not need permission from others to do what God has already given you the green light to accomplish. No words needed here.  I'm so ashamed to admit this, but I waited and waited for the "right" people to say good job that I almost ruined God's calling on my life.  Needless to say, I got tired of waiting; I stopped serving for the applaud of people and started serving because I was created to do so; I became a much happier person.

9) The best way to leave a legacy is by investing on other people.  I know I may be late on realizing this truth but I'm here.  The legacy I want to leave on this earth is by investing on the lives of others.  To Be Continued; God is still working on me.

10) REST IS IMPORTANT: I love serving others but serving others can sometimes be a depleting task which is why when I'm home resting, I fully enjoy myself.  I work hard but I also rest and party hard.  It's only right.

Examine your life, learn from it, grow from it and live, holding nothing back.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

We Were Afraid of Them

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

I can't believe I was so afraid.  I've done many fearful things throughout my life; I've served in post earthquake Haiti, the DR Congo, one of the rape capitals of the world, in India where a dark skinned woman isn't always safe, in post war Kenyan mountains and even behind bars in Dallas prison, so I was surprised of the depth of my fear handing out sandwiches to the homeless in downtown Dallas. 

Our plan for Christmas this year was to travel to downtown Dallas and serve the homeless. We would pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a drink and dessert and find the homeless to hand them out. 

We got in the car, prayed and with great excitement we headed downtown. The first homeless person was a man under a bridge, we asked him his name and if he wanted something to eat, he said yes, we handed him the bag and drink and took off to the next next bridge or person without a home. Simple enough. Our plan was in place. 

The one thing we had not anticipated was our fear. Our car was heavy with fear, thanks to too many episodes of Law and order and Criminal Minds. At the stop of every bridge and homeless person, a negotiation would take place; whether my husband would go out alone, me and my husband, my husband and my oldest or the twins and my husband. We were pitiful. At one negotiation, my husband ended up going alone. We spotted a man under a cold bridge; we weren't sure if he was sleeping or dead. We called out to him and he neither moved nor responded. We were all scared to approach him. We parked the car and my husband approached him. Come to find out, he was asleep, hungry and cold. He was beyond grateful by my husband's presence. Their gratitudes were humbling. 

Besides our cowardice fear, the other thing that surprised me was the homeless's need for touch. The smell of urine and body odor, missing teeth, unkept appearance and visible intoxication were undeniable but in the midst of all the externals they would reach out for us to touch them. One man went around and hugged every last one of us. Another would not let go of my husband's hand from the driver's seat. And another asked for us to take a picture with him, mind you he had no camera (pure comedy). Their need for touch reminds me of a lesson The Lord has been teaching me over and over again: we need each other, we need community, we were created to be known, to be loved and to be touched both physically and emotionally. 

I can't say we're over our fear of the homeless but we have taken a first step towards conquering those fears.

Needless to say, We have experienced an unbelievable Christmas this year. I believe if Jesus were to be born in this day and age, we would find him under one of those cold bridges. Let us continue to serve the least of these as if we were serving Jesus himself. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas Prayer For You

On this great Christmas season I bow my heart to the God of the universe to say a prayer for You.

I pray that God may shower you with his very best and may look upon you with favor.

I pray that he may open Your eyes to see the miracles he daily performs. 

I pray that lack of answers will not cause you to renounce faith in God but will cause you to call on Him to sit with you in the obscurity.  

I pray that daily you may be awed by the mysterious presence of God even if in a gentle breeze.

I pray you may sense that there is something greater than us at play in this world; this may be the beginning of you embracing God.

I pray your Christmas has a lot to do with serving others; there you will realize how full you truly are.
I pray for peace; that even when your world seems to be surrounded by turbulent waters, the peace of God will sustain you.

I pray for joy, even when circumstances are not ideal that you can find joy in something greater than your circumstances.

Please join me in praying for these women that I've met along the way, their faces are forever etched in my mind, they help me be a better follower of Christ.

  • Ashley who wept by the mere thought that we were created to be known on a deeper level and for more than sex; I will forever remember her smile.  I have no idea why she was in prison but she seemed to rejoice over the kind of love Christ has to offer.
  • Red is what I called her because of her hair color but she had a passion to know Christ and to also teach the other women in her pod about him.
  • Bluette the woman I met in Haiti after the earthquake; she suffered greatly but her faith in God helped me believe just a little more.
  • Karen the homeless woman I met by Ross who wept when I prayed that Jesus understands her more than any human can since he too was often homeless.
  • The little old woman I met in India who in her frailty shook my hand to thank me for preaching.  I don't think she had ever heard a woman preach before.
  • The sexually abused women in Congo-two years ago I met a group of women in Congo who caused me to ask God "where were you when these women were being abused?" I promised them that I would return.  Please join me in praying for these women and for us to be courageous to stand up for justice for the women in the DR Congo.
  • The precious women of Kenya, we met on a mountain marked by violence-your strength inspire me daily. Your worship in the midst of lack reminds me that we can have life in spite of chaos.
Let our hearts continue to break for what breaks the heart of God.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More Than One Christmas Story

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 1:21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Every year around this time of the year I find myself struggling. I'm not a Scrooge who hates the holidays or cynical by the commercialism of Christmas (well maybe a little) nor do I feel guilty by how much we have and how little the rest of the world has. I mostly struggle because I feel like I'm missing the point of why we celebrate Christmas. I mean really. Over 2 thousand years ago there was a birth of a baby born of a virgin which many prophets foretold and this baby was to be the savior of the world for all eternity.  And every year we try our best to celebrate this miracle. How do we often celebrate?? By trying to give gifts we think others need.

I mean really, don't you feel like you're missing the point?

So at the beginning of the season my stress level usually heightens just a little bit by how much we're going to spend to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Our children always make asinine gift requests, that could possibly put us in debt if we give in. Then there's the pressure to spend thousands on airfare to visit family (I love my family but shouldn't we show them we love them throughout the year and not just Christmas?). Then there's the holiday parties that require your house to look a certain way; instead of friends coming together celebrating a mysterious happening that is much greater than ourselves; greater than our little minds can fathom. Do you see why I dread the season? It's not Christmas I dread, it's all the required stuff we create around Christmas I dread.

And there's nothing wrong with exchanging gifts, nothing wrong with gathering the family together, nothing wrong with buying your children expensive gifts, nothing wrong with beautifully decorated homes and nothing wrong with Christmas traditions that create fond memories.  My only concern: don't miss the point; don't miss the mystery.

Christmas is probably one of my favorite "holy-days" to celebrate. During Christmas there's a sense of excitement, a sense of preparation for something major getting ready to happen. It's like waiting to see your favorite musician perform live for the first time. You plan months ahead. You purchase your ticket to ensure a good yet affordable seat. You get dressed in clothing that resembles them. You get your voice ready to sing along. You get your dance moves ready to dance along. You get your cameras ready for pictures. Well, that's Christmas for me; Christmas is the waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah to grace us with his presence and to step on that stage. That's huge! For hundreds of years stories had been told about him, people have been waiting in Hope and Christmas is the celebration that He came!!!!!

So how should we celebrate?? To me, a brand new iPhone 5 does not quite do it. To me we need to use Mary, Joseph, and the Magi as examples of how to bring on a celebration only fit for a King. They brought their best: not just presents but their presence. They showed up, they celebrated right there in that smelly old barn.

I can only imagine how disgusting that "barn" had to be and the unwelcoming smells had to be everywhere.

I have a thing for smells. I smell everything.  And that's not always a good thing because I drive my family crazy; candles and air fresheners everywhere.  When serving in Prison, I can't stand the smell of food trays mixed with body order. When I travel internationally, the smell of animals and human waist is everywhere and this OCD woman with a bionic nose is usually greatly challenged.

Why can't we allow our sense of smell to be challenged to remember the birth of Jesus?

Why hasn't the smelly and unpleasant part of the birth of Jesus caught on as we celebrate?

Do we realize the chaos that was taking place during the time of Jesus birth?

Why can't we choose to be where Jesus was born and sit in the unpleasant smells and unpleasant circumstances and just be present and worship?

Mary, Joseph, the Magi chose to celebrate right then and there giving their presence and giving up their right for comfort.

This Christmas will we choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus in an unconventional way? Will we choose to go to those places we just know no one will show up on Christmas Day to celebrate? Will we go to the prisons? Homeless shelters? Broken homes? Bars? The hated in-laws? And just be present?

I have to tell you, the thought of breaking traditions and going counter culture really makes me anxious. However, I believe sometimes it's necessary in order to fully engage in the mystery of the Virgin Birth.  Sometimes it is necessary in order to see how big of a sacrifice it had to be for God to give up his only, perfect Son to be born in a humble place and circumstance. Sometimes it is necessary because when we look at the mess of our lives thinking "nothing good can come out of it, there can be no hope out of this situation", we should remember that Jesus was born in a very messy condition and out of the messy birth came hope for the entire world. 

So Go for it and break the mold this Christmas and sit in the mystery of hope out of the messy and hopefully you will get a sense that you did not miss it.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mutual Love and Respect

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Ephesians 5:21

In prison ministry I get to hear stories of how the church is really doing spiritually; in teaching the world about Jesus and how to love our neighbors. I work with a group of women who desperately want to know how to follow Christ and get on the right track. These precious women are not just rebels with a plan to go against the morals of society; in fact they try their best to fit in and follow the rules.  Surprisingly many of these women grew up in the church.  And in their quest to follow the rules and blend in, they often hold on to the strict religious rules we often hear in the church. And it makes sense, for these women boundaries have been crossed countless times and family rules were often blurred and inconsistent.  So in their quest to fit in to mainstream society and find normalcy they gravitate towards the strict religious standards as a way of maintaining control over something in their lives. 

Every week as I sit among the women to teach, I am often interrupted by several of them trying to teach the rest of the group about some rule they've learned to aid in their quest to following Christ.

"You know if you pray this way God will answer all of your prayers".
"The reason I got more jail time is because I did not read my bible that morning".
"If you keep failing, God will give up on you".
"Homosexuality is an abomination and all homosexuals will go to Hell".
"God is too pure to be among us".

Without fail, every time these kinds of statements are shared, all heads turn to me as a way of saying "is that true? What do you have to say?"

A few weeks ago one of the women made a similar statement "the bible said the husband is the head of the wife and wives have to submit to their husbands" and another woman chimed in telling us of how husband once beat her so bad that she had a broken rib as she was trying to submit to him.  At this point every last one of them had a story and they all sat at the edge of their seats waiting for me to share what the bible really meant by those passages where it said for wives to submit to their husbands.

I quietly prayed and said "all relationships should be based on mutual submission and mutual love and respect".  There was one woman in the class who seem to have never heard that statement before.  She asked for me to "repeat that again", I repeated "all relationships should be based on mutual submission and mutual love and respect".  And questions went flying all over the place, "so who is my head?"  I answered: Jesus.  "Can a husband rape his wife?" I answered: Yes, if she said no.  "Do I have to have sex with my husband whenever he wants?"  I answered: All relationships should be based on love and respect; as long as you're not withholding sex from him to manipulate him or punish him. 

Needless to say, we did not finish going over all of our bible study questions for that night.  But their faces looked exactly like mine when several years ago I heard at a conference that Jesus was my head: bewilderment.  They had smiles on their faces, there seemed to be a collective relief by the thought that Jesus Christ, who is perfect in every way, is our head.

I've seen the above picture floating around on the internet and I really don't understand how this picture explains Ephesians 5:21 "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". The picture seems to be promoting a hierarchy when the bible preaches equality and mutuality: "submit to one another". I really don't know how I could explain and teach this picture to women who have found themselves bound by addictions and abused by the hands of those who professed to love them and "cover" them as the umbrella asserts.  I really don't understand what the picture means.  The picture is assuming many things about the family and not taking into account the diversity of the family.  It is also assuming that every woman will have a husband and if every woman does not marry, then who will be her head? This picture seems to produce more questions than answers.

Church, please teach the bible in context; I mean the context in which it was written not in ours.  Teach the freedom found in Christ not oppression found by the hands of man.  Teach mutual love, respect and submission not a one direction submission. Teach us how to love our neighbors and see them as equals not to engage in any forms of oppression; remember our spouses are also our neighbors.  Teach us how to serve each other with love.  Teach us how to breathe life and dignity into the souls of our brothers and sisters not to suck the life out of each other by dictating a hierarchy that Christ never prescribed.  Above all, teach us to love God as seen by the love we have for one another. 

Church we need you to help us see Jesus!

I pray for my sisters who are in relationships built on power and control not love and respect; God hears your cries for help and he loves you; you are enough.  I pray for my brothers who society dictates you must assert your leadership over your family through power and control, God hears your cries for help; he loves you and you are enough. God teach us to love like you; freely, openly, with compassion and dignity.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

30 Reasons I Give Thanks

For These Things and more I give thanks!

1. Children and husband who love taking care of me when ill. I was reminded of that just last week.
2. A husband that cooks, cleans, does the laundry and supports me in ministry.  I'm so thankful for my husband every single day as he prepares us breakfast, and provides in more ways than traditionally prescribed.
3. White chocolate covered pretzels. Hmmm, Hmmm, Hmmm
4. Supernatural strength to survive tough season and boy have I been through some tough seasons.
5. Encouraging Friends who always seem to know just what to say.
6. Non-Haitian friends who are not threatened by my rants on the need for more diversity, you know who you are.
7. All of those who financially support us as we continue to take our entire family on missions trips to Haiti, trust me your support however big or small has forever changed my family.
8. Mentors along the way.
9.  My pastor, Mark Mohrweis who saw my gifts in preaching and pastoral leadership and would not allow them to go unused.
10. My small group which has challenged me in many ways.
11.  Unexpected visits by new friends met on facebook.  Social Media does have its pluses.
12.  Though we have no family coming over for thanksgiving, the company of our neighbors will be a great reminder that we are not alone.
13.  Peace of mind
14. Warm covers on a cold day.
15.  Family movie nights, last night we watched hunger games all over again and the twins were as scared and sad as the first time we saw it especially when the black girl from district 11 died.  Good times!
16. A great relationship with my 15 year old, he often tells me things just to see how I will react.
17.  Imperfect children; they've taught me how to love unconditionally.
18. Nontraditional family; you'd be surprised as to how nontraditional we are and we love it.  We work well together.
19. Options; I hesitated putting this one on my list but I live in a country where I am afforded options and I'm so grateful.
20. Colorful friends; I can't visit all of the different countries that I'd like so I have friends to tell me of their countries and life experiences.  Did I mention how much I LOVE this diverse world?
21. A job; we often don't realize how important a job is until we don't have one. 
22. My nieces and nephews; it's like I birthed those children.  I love them so much.
23. Emma; I love that girl to pieces.  She's very wise, encouraging and an entrepreneur like myself.   
24.  After school stories from my boys; those are probably the funniest stories I have ever heard in my entire life. They talk about teachers, who's dating whom, lunch etc.
25. An education; the greatest lesson I've learned about education is how to use it; not to show how smart you are or to make lots of money but to serve others.
26. Sunday morning breakfast; our family's favorite meal is breakfast.  It's not just the eating part that's special but those mornings at that table have produced many riveting conversations.
27. Our bed; there we gather around to "pray" but prayer time isn't what you think it is.  Gathering for prayer is always done with everyone screaming, someone insulting someone else and when we finally gather which seems to take forever, we share prayer requests, concerns, we recite a verse and then we pray.  Good times!
28.  The women I've met in prison.  They've taught me so much about the presence of God which is all around us not just in "holy" places.
29. Time of Rest and Solitude; lately I've had to take moments of rest and solitude and just acknowledge the presence of God all around me.
30.  LIFE; the struggle, the chaos, the hustle, the joy and laughter and adventures in between.  I love being alive and I'm very thankful for every aspect of living.

Bonus: my entire family, in-laws and all; they all contribute to who I am today, I am so grateful for all of them!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When Blind Spots Turn us all Blind

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

One of the things that really bugs me is when we try to tell people how they should feel about situations pertaining to their unique life experiences, dismissing their real feelings. Ugh!

"Why would you ever feel that way?  You're just sensitive making a mountain out of a molehill." 


And I think one of the reasons we do this is because we all have these things called blind spots.  Scientifically defined: blind spots are areas on the retina without receptors that respond to light. Therefore an image that falls on this region will NOT be seen. Socially: Blind spots are things, people, or ideas that we cannot see; why?? Because we do not all have the same experiences.  Which is why we all have them.  

Blind spots cause us to dismiss each other's perspectives calling them wrong.  

Blind spots cause us to become defensive when someone disagrees with our views as they try to tell us of their unique points of views.  

Our environments, family of origin, religion, culture, socio-economic status, gender and sexual orientation all shape our unique perspectives. 

Here are some examples:

If you've never been a woman, your blind spot might be women's issues.  Chances are you will not know what it feels like to be the only woman in a room filled with men.

If you've never been a black man, your blind spot might be issues pertaining to the black man.  Chances are you will not know what it feels like to be feared and to be thought of as a criminal before you're even met.

If you've never been a single parent, your blind spot might be single parents.  Chances are you would not know what it's like to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and take care of a family?

If you've never been divorced, your blind spots might be those who have gone through divorce. Chances are you would not know the feeling of irreconcilable differences and your best friend becoming your enemy?  

If you've never lived in the "ghetto" your blind spot might be those who live in those tough neighborhoods.  Chances are you will not know of the complicated issues surrounding families in those rough neighborhoods?

If you belong to one religious group, your blind spot might be other religious groups.  You may not understand why others from different religious backgrounds would feel so strongly about their beliefs.

If you have never migrated from a different country, your blind spot might be those who are immigrants.  Chances are you will not understand the many challenges facing those coming from a different land or policies in favor of immigrants? 

And if you've never been a homosexual man or woman, your blind spots will certainly be those in our society who are homosexuals seeking to be understood and be treated with acceptance and fairness.

The point is: we all have blind spots.  

I wonder if that's why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Church "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn"  In fact he pleaded with them to Love one another in Romans 12: 

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love.Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

When we check our blind spots, we are actually doing the most loving thing for one another.

No, it does not necessitate living through every experience in order to understand and empathize with one another;  but it does mean you are NOT the expert on issues concerning them.  Your role is that of a student.  And as a student your role is to lovingly listen to their unique experiences and be schooled about those unique perspectives.  We can't simply sit inside of our own comfortable boxes, we need to reach across the aisle, ocean and culture lines, we need to step outside of ourselves and comfortable places so we can limit our blind spots. Stepping out is often quite challenging, uncomfortable and messy but to love as the Apostle Paul described, it is worth it. 

Are you willing to admit that we all have blind spots?  Are you willing to seek sitting with others with experiences different from your own and be schooled?  Or is your unique experience the only "right" lens from which to view the world? 

Check out these fun optical exercises to see how optical blind spots work.

Go for it and experiment with your blind spots both optically and socially.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sex: To Be Known on a Deeper Level

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame Genesis 2:25
"I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid" Genesis 3:10
"Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from" Genesis 3:11

This semester in prison we ventured into a topic that we felt ill-equipped and quite apprehensive to handle: SEX.  However the more we tried to ignore it, the more questions we were receiving from the women.  The extra challenging piece to the story is that most of the women that we work with are sex workers.  Not only were they sex workers, most of them have a history of sexual abuse. My fear has always been not to open up Pandora's box without the tools to help them deal with what comes out.  So we prayed and came up with a six weeks lesson on Sex: to be known on a deeper level

When we first started the lessons, the mention of the word sex would have the ladies giggle like middle school girls.  They could not get the image of what they know of sex out of their minds to embrace a new definition.  We repeated over and over again; the point of sex is to be known on a deeper level; this is not a knowing that can happen over night but this kind of knowing takes time, commitment and it is reciprocal. That first week, we received question after question because the ladies were trying hard to understand how does this "deeper knowing" work? We dove into scriptures giving them some basic foundations; we discussed what being "naked and unashamed" meant.  Man these women had some great insights.  We talked about physical and emotional nakedness.  The more questions they asked, the more you can tell they were buying into God's plan for his children in the context of sex, relationships and going deeper. 

We offered examples of biblical characters who modeled those kinds of deeper knowing intimate relationships; Adam and Eve, Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, God and Moses.  The more I opened up the box of the variety of intimate relationships God desires for his children, the more comfortable they felt with the topic and the teenage giggles lessened. 

Then we moved on to how sin tainted that beautiful plan God had for his children as they engage in relationships, intimacy and sex.  Instead of being naked and unashamed, we became naked and instant shame pervaded.  We looked at the account of the original sin with Adam and Eve and compared it to how we respond now when we sin.  The women were ticked off by how original sin overhauled God's plan for humanity.  They knew far too well how the affects of sin destroyed relationships and intimacy.

Last night, we discussed the sin of rape.  We anticipated for it to be a hard night for the ladies and us leaders.  And as expected, it was hard to hear the many stories of many accounts of rape and the complete dehumanization of God's daughters for selfish pleasures.

We went over the staggering statistics of rape in the US:
  • A woman's chance of being raped in the U.S.: 1 in 5
  • 54% percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police
  • Percentage of rapists who are never incarcerated: 97 percent
  •  A woman's chance of being raped in college: 1 in 4 or 5
  • Every 2 minutes someone is raped in the US
  •  2/3 of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows
  • 44% of the victims are under the age of 18
  • 38% of rapists are a friend or an acquaintance
One woman raised her hand and said "do you know why many of us don't report when we're sexually assaulted?  Because who will believe a prostitute?  If we report rape, they will get us on other charges".
I don' know about you but when I hear things like this, I'm instantly enraged and disgusted by a system that would not do whatever it takes to make sure all of its citizens are safe .  The cycle of sexual sin seems to continue to follow these women. 
There has to be some Good News in all of this chaos.   
Our last lesson, which will be taught in a couple of weeks, will focus on redemption, how Christ's sacrifice gave us an opportunity to go back to Eden and unashamedly regain dignity over our bodies, intimacy and sex.  That is why Christ came: to turn this mother around. We were created to be known on a deeper level where we can be naked and unashamed both physically and emotionally.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Grief Revisited: Grief Anniversaries are Hard

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” Psalms 46:1-2

Last night I shared with the family that today would mark the one year anniversary of my father’s passing; my oldest replied, “it’s been a year already?”  That was my exact sentiments.

The concept of time when grieving is quite interesting.  On the one hand it seems like life has come to a halt where a part of you is living in slow motion; as if your every steps were taken through a sea of molasses. But on the other hand life seems to continue to progress at a pace that is too fast for healing to take place; time doesn’t really wait for your emotions to catch up with the pace of life.  Some days I’d wish for a place to hide in isolation to just grieve and heal but we all know healing doesn’t really occur in a vacuum, isolated from people and living.  The miraculous journey of grieving and healing occurs with and through people while finding moments of isolation to just be in the presence of God.
So here’s a synopsis of what this first year of grieving has looked like:

I remember the day quite vividly, a Sunday afternoon; I dropped off our twins to swimming lessons.  I sat in the car to get some work completed, lap top on my lap, fidgeted around a little bit to get my laptop and the steering wheel at perfect positioning for comfort.  I remember the smell of summer ending and fall entering in the air. 
About 25 minutes into my work I was interrupted by a phone call from my sister which was quite common for a Sunday afternoon.  When you have a terminally ill parent and you live far away, you do different things to soften the blow when you ever receive that daunting phone call to tell you the inevitable has occurred.  One of the ways I’d prepare for that conversation over the years is to engage in small talk before I’d receive the news.  So every conversation started the same way: Hi, sa kap fet? What’s up? How are the children? How’s Jersey? This conversation followed that same script but the answers I received from my sister were a little bit more distant so I knew this phone call was the phone call I’d dreading for many years.   

Of course the response is never as you anticipate.  I prepared myself to be strong and accepting but the emotion that came out was denial, shock, emptiness, loneliness, helplessness and all of the sudden everything came to a halt.

All of my efforts to fly back home were met by one obstacle after another.  One of the biggest obstacles was a hurricane that devastated the East Coast, hurricane Sandy.  So my father passed, now there’s a hurricane, power outages everywhere, freezing weather and all flying was suspended until further notice.  When we were able to get seats to return back home each ticket was over $700 and we have a family of 5; I was enraged over what was happening.  Nothing was going according to plan.

But in the few days held hostage in Texas I was able to write the Eulogy/sermon for my father’s funeral.  God was so gracious in allowing me to use the time to put words together to speak to a community who were in desperate need to hearing from the Lord.  In fact they’d never had a woman stand on their pulpit to deliver a message; they were shocked to hear from God through a woman at her own father’s funeral.  Who else but God could have orchestrated those events?

 After the funeral I returned back to Texas, emotionally spent and broken.  Now I entered into a different side of grief, the side that would last longer than the initial shock.  I went back to work almost right away (which I don’t always recommend) and by the end of the week I found myself furious and agitated mostly at my husband for not knowing that I needed time, poor guy, he couldn’t do anything right. 

I found myself going through cycles of emotions; one moment energized the next lethargic.  One moment excited about new projects, the next overwhelmed by the amount of mental work it would require to get things done. One moment I would miss my dad, the next angry by the mess he had put us through.  Up and down were my emotions.

I found myself visiting depression more than I care for.  My depression kept friends at a distance.  It kept projects on a high shelf.  And I would often find comfort in just being still in the presence of God where I didn’t have to work.  You know it takes a lot of work to maintain relationships and be socially engaged, so my times with God allowed me to be present without the pressure of performing. During my times of mental highs absent of depression, I accomplished many great projects.  And during my times of mental lows I just allowed myself to slowdown. 

Grief and Healing cannot happen in just a vacuum isolated from life, friends and activities; it is moving through the natural rhythms of the cycle without guilt, shame, denial and being stuck that has helped me survive this first year of grieving. 

Throughout the year, I was comforted by the presence of God who has been an ever present help throughout this process and he continues to show up in my times of great need.  Grief is a journey, not a destination so I journey on.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Prison Work is Messy Work

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

After a few months of hiatus, I recently started going back to Dallas Prison to serve the women of Lew Sterrit prison.  In the past year and a half a small team and I have taught a number of life skills classes to challenge the women to start taking the necessary steps towards getting their lives back on track.  We’ve taught on healing, forgiveness, finding life’s purpose and this semester on HIV/AIDS, all taught with the word of God as a foundation. 

Every new semester comes with its own challenges and new faces.  Of course I want to see old friends but this is not the kind of place you jump with excitement when you see old friends.  Instead your heart breaks wondering of all the failed promises they made and their shame for failing.  And I believe, the excited while disappointed feeling is mutual; you can see it in the half smile on their faces that say: I’m glad to see you but I’m so ashamed because I failed.

When I describe inside of the prison to eager friends who can’t fathom being inside of a prison serving, they walk away with their mouths wide open in complete disbelief.  Well this time around, it was my mouth that was left wide open, shocked by where I was and what I was doing.  The entire time I was there, I was thinking: “no one will ever believe where I was and what I was seeing”. 

So let me paint the picture for you of that first day back into prison.

In the past year and a half we’ve been serving in a multi-purpose room.  And this room is connected to the pod, where the women sleep, with plexiglass doors on both sides, to the left and the right; virtually soundproof and a guard has to buzz the women in and out.

This year, however, due to an influx of volunteers, we were pushed into the pod to conduct our class.  Now when you walk in the pod from the multi-purpose room, the guard sits on a raised staired concrete slab area right in the middle of the pod.  Directly in front of the guard is the common area and surrounding the common area are two floors of bunk beds with no bars (sorry not the drama you see on TV).  To the right of the common area are showers, toilets and, I think, a microwave. 

On our first day of serving, we walked in to conduct our class and instantly you can hear all of the voices from the different activities going on.  Some were playing cards and others in their “rooms” with their bunk mates, guard talking to the ladies, and others were cleaning up.  We announced the class and we began pulling round tables together to set enough chairs for about 20 women.  The women were not required to attend but about 15 showed up. 

And so we began our class.

 This was by far the most bizarre condition in which I have ever taught a class.  It seemed after every fifth sentence, someone who was not a class participant, was in desperate need to use the toilet which was maybe 20ft away from our “class” and that toilet flush had to be the loudest flush I have ever heard.  And it was also around that same time several women decided this was the best time to take a shower which by the way has a concrete “door” that covers up to their waste.  Yes you got it loud bathroom flushes and butt naked women right in the middle of our class while teaching from the top of our lungs on HIV/AIDS in prison. 

Oh I love prison work…no other ministry has stretched me to go beyond the pleasantries and get comfortable with the messy.

It was so odd that right there, in the midst of the messy, was the presence of God.  Sometimes I find that God’s presence is more felt in these messy places than many churches I have visited.  There is that reminder that this messy group is why Jesus came.  It forces me to see my limited power and God’s supernatural power to save, heal and restore.  As much as I like going to the prison to serve, 99 percent of the time, I feel completely helpless without any answers for the enormous problems I hear but those moments force me to realize that I am not God and only He can heal, save and restore.  My job is to just show up.  I guess the only credit I deserve is for showing up; everything else is God. 

No other job has taught me to sit with the messy than prison ministry.  No other job has taught me of my limited power than prison ministry.  No other job has taught me to look at broken people with compassion than prison ministry.

Though it is messy, the presence of Jesus is there.  And wherever Jesus is that’s where I want to be. 
Please Join me in praying for us as we learn to sit with the messy!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Covert Racism is Unjust

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

To everyone who so desperately wants to believe we live in a world of meritocracy and that racism is a construct made up in the minds of minorities who are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, I want to tell you a little story.

I'm a foreign woman, born in Haiti. Race relations, in our country,  is also a complicated issue. However winning our independence in 1803 has helped alleviate some of the pain of the past; it has been a great source of pride for Haitians and in some sense, it has unified all of us; neg marrons (brown negros), mulatoes and whites. In America not so much. The history of the blacks is plagued not only by the brutality of the slave ships but being kept as slaves for hundreds of years and stripping them of all sense of dignity with no way out.  Unlike the slaves in Haiti, the slaves in America never "won" their independence. Every attempt was met by roadblocks by the very people who swore to equal rights and the pursuit of happiness; instead of self-pride they were taught to self-hate. Expectations were set very low. In my line of work, I've learned when you expect very little of people they usually meet those expectations.

Like many of you, I didn't get it. As a foreigner, I couldn't understand why a group of people could not just put their minds to accomplish great things like the whites. I mean, for God's sake, it was a free education, equal opportunity and equal rights, right?? In my country the biggest hurdle to receiving an education and advancing in life is the lack of finances and resources but here in America, everyone is loaded with money. Right?? That's how a foreigner looking from the outside thinks about race issues in America and I suspect many of you looking from the outside think about it in the same manner. Racism in America?? No such thing, it's a lack of effort that’s keeping minorities oppressed and chained in ghettos.
I've been following this racial issue in America since 1987, when I first stepped foot on American soil. And after 26 years of research, personal experience and hearing from both sides, I have to tell you it's a mess. For the most part, racism in America has transitioned from the blatant, in your face, overt type to the more insidious and emotionally harmful, covert type. It looks like not being called on in the classroom to answer questions, it looks like calling on your own kind for opportunities to advance, it looks like making decisions in social gatherings where minorities would never be, to get an equal opportunity, it looks like not believing that they can achieve, it looks like setting them up for failure and in the end say: "see I told you so" and it looks like a lack of praise and encouragement for work done.  Covert racism makes one seem and feel crazy; you find yourself depressed, shrink back in the presence of the majority and find yourself crippled by fear.  And never are you allowed to say “I may be feeling the effects of covert racism” because those thoughts verbalized would be met by great disregard and comments like: “whatever do you mean? Nonsense; We’re all equal in this place”. 

Racism is still a big issue and a big deal.  Two of the institutions that continue to remind us of this truth are the Church and the public school system. I'll save my rant on the church and racism for another day but if you guessed that Sunday was the most segregated day of the week, then you'd be right.
But as for the school systems, I've been following them for quite some time; as a student, then as a teacher and now as a parent. Racism exists, it is evident in the public school systems and it is blatant. You don't believe me? Go on your computer, type in your zip code, if you live in a community that's predominantly black, read off the standardized test results for the children in that community. Now if you live in a predominantly white neighborhood, I want you to compare those test results to that of your neighbors that live in predominantly black or minority community. Exactly! There's a huge gap isn't there?

Please, please don't tell me about effort levels.

As a mom of three black boys who started becoming aware of the covert nature of racism in America. I have had to work extra hard to educate my sons of the realities of this issue in America and around the world. I often tell them "racism is real. At some point you will sense that your teachers will treat you differently from the other children but that gives you no right to not produce your best work and respond with disrespect; keep working hard". When they were in "average" level courses, I would ask them "look around your classroom how many black children do you notice in your class?" They would say: "we're all black mom" "exactly" and we would discuss the different reasons why that was the case and racism was one of them! I have had to fight to get them into advanced placement courses and they did not always understand why I would challenge them to be above "average". This year my oldest sat us down to plead for us to lower our expectations of an 88 to an 80 and during his plea he said "mom, I have all AP courses and I'm the only black boy in my class and I'm working hard". His comment stung my heart and I was sad that he had to live through the realities of this world.  I don't understand why mostly minorities are found in "average" level courses and you can barely find them in the AP courses. I don't understand why black children are being left behind in the public school systems. If racism isn't alive then why does the huge educational gap exist?

So here’s the point; Racism is still alive.  Its fingerprints are seen in many of the institutions we love and trust.  Instead of denying its existence, let us fight the status quo and change the systems that continue to perpetuate such an inhumane system.  Let us join hands and declare that “every kid, regardless of zip code and color, deserves a quality education”.  Let us ask of the church, why? Why are Sunday mornings the most segregated day of the week?  Could we, the body of Christ, be continuing to perpetuate a system that Christ Himself came to destroy?

Let us never be silent in the presence of injustice.  Covert Racism is unjust!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Is Receiving an Education a Sin??

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor”.  1 Corinthians 12:21-23

A while back in one of my trips to Haiti, I met a woman that asked me a question that puzzled me. She prefaced the question by saying: "The Lord has placed a decision on my heart and you talked today about making good decisions, is it bad to make decisions?" That's not the question that puzzled me; but the full meaning of her question was: as a married woman am I allowed to make decisions?  I respected her and did not push her to disclose the decision she was anticipating on making. But I answered her as safe as I can, for all I know she could've been trying to tell me that she had decided to sacrifice her child or something as horrific. Hey you never know.  So I went through the list and shared with her that making a decision in and of itself is not a bad thing, as long as a) it is not against the words of God, b) that you and your husband have discussed it and come to an agreement and c) if your decision is serving a greater purpose. To which she smiled and said "good, good" and assured me that her decision lines up with my list.

She then went on to ask the question that left me speechless. "The decision I want to make is to get an education; Is that a bad decision? Is it a sin to desire receiving an education?" Her question moved me to compassion. She went on to say: "I'm an orphan; I have no family. I love my husband and he takes good care of me but I don't want him to keep feeding me fish, I want to learn how to fish. If something happens to my husband; I will have nothing left. That is why I want to go back to school and get an education."

I was close to tears while she was making her case for an education. I was saddened that she would see this decision as a selfish desire that would displease God.

The more we talked the more hopeful she became about her future and how receiving an education can help illuminate her path.

Unfortunately, these stories are not uncommon throughout the world.  All around the world, women are going without an education because culture has prescribed that it is better to have women learn to cook, clean and take care of a household than to receive an education.  And the sad thing is a portion of the Church, not God, has joined society in their devaluation of women.  It is time for us to send the message loud and clear that a woman desiring to get an education is not a sin.  I can’t believe I even have to declare this.  But just in case there are some groups in a hole somewhere who have not heard, when a woman is educated, everyone wins; her household, her husband, her children, her community, her employers, the world; everyone wins.

Women, now go and show the world that God has created you with a brain, with gifts and talents that will enhance the world.  If you do not use those gifts, you will become a part of the problem not the solution. Your gifts and talents are indispensable to the rest of the world. 

Now go…. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

One Year For ElevateHer

Last year mid August, I locked myself on a seat at Starbucks and began to write my first ever business plan for a vision God had placed on my heart for years: ElevateHer International Ministries.  I remember being so scared to even dare to dream that God could use me to bring about transformation unto the lives of women.  I remember being afraid of the judgment and criticism of others but God continued to move me along. 

I wrote down everything I sensed God was communicating and doing in me through this vision. I was very doubtful that any of it would come to fruition.  I was quite sure that I, Dieula, did not have what it takes to create anything that would be worth it.  But something kept telling me to take a step.  My mantra for each day was: "take a step, one action step each day that moves you toward your vision, your calling". 

And over time fear turned to confidence and confidence turned to women's lives being touched. With the strength of God, I stepped into the Dallas prison and my eyes are forever opened to the needs of women who prostitute themselves, women in pain and suffering; I learned that God is indeed with the broken hearted.  With the help of God, I stepped into churches in women's groups and challenged them to forgive.  With the help of God I stepped onto many pulpits and reminded them that God can use unexpected people to do a mighty work for His glory. With the help of God, I did the international part of ElevateHer and traveled to Haiti and encouraged even more women, men and the youth.  With the help of God, my African (Sudanese) brothers and sisters were encouraged here locally in Dallas. 

God has not only used ElevateHer to help women find life from chaos, He has used ElevateHer to give me life, new life.  He has used it to free me from the shackles that kept me bound.  He has used it to help me remember that it is through him everything flows, there is no calling without Him and there is no  purpose outside of Him.  As much as I love my audience, I am daily reminded that my confidence is to rest on the Lord. I move on His command, and I walk into doors only He opens. 

I used to think everything needed to be perfect before taking that first step, I would obsess over website design, colors and clearly defined goals but now I know it is in the walking that God perfects the vision, no time before.  This journey has been messy, hard and financially taxing; I've had to work multiple part time jobs to make ends meet, I've even accepted full time work elsewhere as a way of staying afloat.  Some days I've even threaten to quit, then out of nowhere someone would email me and call me to speak at their event. Like I said it's a beautiful messy work of Christ.  

So I walk towards another year as I keep my eyes, ears and heart open to what God will do through this vision of elevating women.  One year down and prayerfully many more to go as God allows.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey.  Without your help, encouragement and love, women's lives would not be touched through this ministry, my life would not be touched.  So thank you friends.  

One Year For ElevateHer International Ministries! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Live Life To the Fullest

A while back something happened to me. I suspect it was during my sleep or some kind of period of unconsciousness. It wasn't a huge earth chattering event but subtle.  I can't explain when it actually happened, I just remembered its affects.  It was like a presence that BREATHED NEW LIFE INTO ME. 

And instantly I was different, I had to be different, I couldn't stay the same. Instantly I started standing a little taller. I started trusting my journey and my instincts.  I started BELIEVING IN DREAMS again and boy did I have some dreams.  I started believing that I CAN. I started believing that like everyone else God has created, I had a CALLING, a PURPOSE, a REASON TO BE.  I started pursuing goals UNAFRAID OF FAILURE, but with the full intent of just walking to see the other side. 

I started not taking the CRITICISM of others too seriously.  I started not making decisions based on the OPINIONS of other people. I started approaching life with JOY at the thought of POSSIBILITIES and ENDLESS HOPE. And in that process, I started ATTRACTING OTHERS to do the same. Because that thing that happened to me, that VOICE that WHISPERED to me, that presence that BREATHED life into me wasn't just for my own well being but for the GOOD OF HUMANITY. 

Hell has tried to stop me. The DARKNESS has tried to overtake me. DESPAIR has tried to leave me
empty. DISAPPOINTMENTS have attempted to slow me down... 

...but alas that voice, that PRESENCE, that being has continued to STRENGTHEN me, breathe into me and whisper to me "KEEP ON WALKING, don't stop, I have you at the palm of MY hands...LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST".  So I walk...with the full intent of living every bit of my life to the fullest; NOT HOLDING ANYTHING BACK.  

Why don't you join me?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Haiti: God's always up to Something

Every international trip I've taken I always try to get a sense of what God is looking to address in my life prior to leaving, however on this trip I was clueless.  In fact, I walked into this most recent trip to Haiti more like an expert rather than a student.  I already knew the issues in Haiti, I've already heard the stories, I've already seen the look of desperation, I've already met the mothers who have had to make unimaginable sacrifices to feed their children, I've already seen men wasting away, unable to find meaningful work.  I honestly did not think I could see or feel anything new for Haiti.  I guess I was undergoing missionary fatigue, where your heart stops responding to the very things that would drive your passions. I am so glad God did not leave my numb heart untouched. He invaded my heart once again. 
Our task for the week was to conduct a sport’s camp for a group of some 250 students.  It was a vision my husband had a year ago after seeing the needs of the children in Haiti last year.  His desire was for each teenager to leave the camp with a shoe and a soccer ball.  And that’s exactly what we did. Not only did they leave camp with a shoe and ball, they also received a shirt, bag and medals; all were gifts given by generous donors.  

I absolutely loved watching the girls doing their best engaging in sports, something you don't see too often in Haiti.  They were cute and timid but oh so competitive.  

There is always room for nail polish, whether you're in the US or Haiti; nail polish is always a win. 

They loved showing off their new nails. 

From sun up to sun down, the below field was preoccupied with intense football matches. This view always takes my breath away. 

Our team spent many mornings and evenings eating, sharing and laughing on this balcony.

We joined the students at their play; every night was an evening chapel service where the students sang so beautifully, danced and prayed.  The last evening we were together was the talent show; my husband and our friend Brian's talent was push-ups: who can do the most push-ups? The children loved it. I was a bit embarrassed that my husband found yet another opportunity to take off his shirt.  

God invaded our worlds once again in unexpected ways by teaching us he can take average people and change their hearts for the things that matter the most to Him. These students were in desperate need of love both in tangible ways and for us to model it.  Every morning I would be greeted by: Sister Dieula, you are beautiful and I love you.  Some would say it in creole and many did their best to say it English.  They were responding to what I shared with them on the first day of chapel: you are beautiful and I love you. 

The look on their faces when they walked into the chapel to select their shoes, balls, shirts, bags and medals were priceless. 

On the last day of camp a group of girls and boys came up to share their appreciation for us and what we have given them.  The funny thing is: we gained more from them than we could've possibly given them.  The girls even shared a song to honor us.  

The boys shared words of blessings to us and our families as we traveled back home.

 Pastor Salnave, a dynamic leader with great love, admiration and passion for the youth.  He inspired our team to lead with passion.

In the heated Haiti sun, we would join inside of this corrugated roofed chapel to what seemed like hours, praising and worship; possibly the best worship I have ever heard in my entire life. 

And with every trip, there's always one that tugs on my heart and have me rushing to the throne of Christ for answers.  The youth were so bright, full of passion and energy; many of them were working on their third language but the question that kept sending me to Jesus was: after these students were done with their secondary schooling (for those who can afford to make it that far), what would become of them? The reality is in countries like Haiti, by the time these students are done with their secondary schooling, it is close to impossible for them to continue on. I was on my knees a lot, asking God for more laborers to lend a hand to these students and provide opportunities for them to flourish. 

My proudest experience on the field was how this team worked together.  The US team loved, respected and honored the Haiti team.  The Haiti team felt their sincere love; they shared with us that this was the first team to treat them with such dignity.  The team exemplified the definition of true partnership really well. 

I pray to the Lord that our efforts were not in vain.  I pray our family will become lifetime partners with what's taking place around the world.  I pray that they/we may bend to the Lord's will for our lives before we bend to the will of others and ours.  The Previlons, had another successful mission's trip.  3 down, many more to go...