The Stink That Stops You

After a year’s of anticipation (and by anticipation I mean “huh, I’d kind of like to know how that ends”), I found myself setting with my mom and my sister watching The Mentalist. I know, I know…so. But, you see this was the episode where Red John would finally (and by finally I mean “huh, they still haven’t figured that out”) would be revealed. The entire premise of the show rested on this one episode.

And, it was pretty intense. The uncertainty was there. Completely random surprises were there. And, there were a few opportunities to jump at just the right time.

It was during one of these moments, we heard it; faint at first, but then the scraping right outside the front window was definitely there.

At the same time, both Annie and mom looked at me which translated in “you check it out.” So, I mustered my courage, as mom followed close behind me, and quietly opened the door. I looked out and could see nothing. I then started to go out which was quickly halted by a “what are you doing? Get back in here.”

That’s when it happened! Before we had time to debate, the culprit appeared from the bushes. We quickly closed the door as it was the only barrier between us. Out of the shadows, out of the bushes came a …
images SKUNK!!

It placed itself right on the front step to the house. It’s beady little eyes daring us.

We looked at each other and lost it! Our terror resided, but then I realized, “I can’t go home tonight because I’m being held hostage in my mom’s house by a skunk.” How was I doing to explain this one? But, there was no option. There was no way to get out of the house and to my car without going right by it, and who wants to take that chance.

So, I got a blanket and pillow and settled myself on the couch.

As I lay there, I began to think about how often in my life have I let other “stinky” things hold me back. Maybe a bad relationship or job. Fear of failure or fear of success. What other people thought of me or didn’t think of me. Probably more times than I care to acknowledge.

Most of the time the “stinkyness (is that a word?)” sat there, looked me in my eyes, and held me hostage with nothing more than a daring glance and the fear of the possibility of what could potentially happen. Granted it held me hostage in a nice, comfortable place, but it held me hostage just the same.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this was not the time for me to courageously run past the skunk and take my chances, but it did get me thinking, maybe more than it should have.

Maybe, in this moment it’s not necessary to stand against the possibility, but someday soon it might be.

After all of the thinking was done, I smiled once again, rolled over and slept…and dreamt of killer skunks chasing me.

One of Those Stories!

Everyone has those stories. Those stories you keep secretly hidden, only bringing them out at appropriate times, with the right people, or when it has been a safe amount of time you’re no longer terribly embarrassed.

Well…here’s one of those stories.

A few year’s ago, after years of having roommates, I found myself a new home owner with my own place. My sis, also had her own place in Branson, so we found ourselves often tossing a coin to see which house we wanted to stay at for the weekend. This particular weekend, her house won out.

I came in Sunday evening, exhausted from pretending to be a tourist for the weekend and crashed on the couch. As soon as my eyes closed, I heard a rumbling in the back bedroom. I instantly sat up, my brain spinning with am I going to fight, flight, or freeze.

Do I run to a neighbors and call the police? Can I even move? Do I lay here and pretend like I didn’t hear anything? Do I go check it out?

Which do I choose: fight, flight, or freeze?

Fight seemed to win out…kind of…we’ll just call it a frightened courage.

Remember, I was scared, but determined to check it out. I grabbed a lighter off the coffee table. Apparently, I was going to set my intruder on fire. Not my brightest moment.

With lighter in hand, I hesitantly made my way down the hallway. I was stealthy (I say now that it’s over and it makes me feel better about myself). The only sounds were the rumbling still going on and the extremely loud beating of my heart.

I mustered my courage and burst into the room to find … NOTHING!

Now, I begin reasoning with myself because I know I heard something and although I’m scared, I’m not irrational. As I try to reason what is happening, a thought comes to me, “maybe he’s in the closet!”

The beating of my heart increases again as I make my way to the closet. I flick the lighter on (that pains me a bit to admit), turn the knob, and jump strategically behind the door.

And…NOTHING!

I peek my head courageously or hesitantly, however you prefer to view it, around the edge of the door and see nothing but dresses and shoes looking back at me.

But, I know I heard something. Again a realization comes to me, “maybe he’s under the bed.” It was in that moment I learned that courage and stupidity often run a close parallel and I was very close to that line as I “courageously” kneeled down, flicked the lighter out in front of me, and lifted the bed ruffle.

NOTHING! NOTHING! NOTHING!

But, that’s when it happened. The rumbling began again. With great fear, I slowly and quietly stood up thinking “this is it, this is the end, get your lighter ready.” As I stood up and faced what I was sure was going to be the strongest of foes, I was startled.

There was NOTHING staring me back at me.

That’s when I saw it. Over in the corner of the room, hidden discretely behind the dresser, was a Wal-Mart bag and setting confidently on top of it was my culprit, a bird.

My intruder that set my body, mind and emotions on an elaborate roller coaster ride was a small, non-intimidating creature that was gently prompted to fly back out the window the same way it came.

I went back to the couch exhausted from the day’s activities. As I laid there and contemplated the adventure, I began to smile and thought, “I’m so glad I didn’t call the police.” images

Modern Day Slavery

When I was 21, I found myself in a small orphanage outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica. From the moment we stepped out of our vans, we were bombarded by children. They were fascinated because we looked different from them, and quite honestly they loved the attention. Although the workers were doing the best they could, the need was too great. Children were sleeping 3 to 4 in a toddler bed, meals consisted of milk and rice, diapers were changed only when it was a necessity, and our afternoon activities consisted of singing songs and pushing children around in boxes pretending they were cars.

This was the first time I heard of modern day slavery. In my naivety, and curiosity, I simply asked “what happens to the kids.” The response startled me as the workers and Kingsly began to explain some would be adopted, but not necessarily to be part of a loving, nurturing family, but to serve the families, to virtually be slaves.

My idealistic world was crushed. I couldn’t understand how this could be happening today. I immediately wanted to do something and fought the “there’s only so much we can do” mindset around me.

But…eventually I went home and life took over. Jamaica was distant and I had my hopes and dreams to focus on.

A few years later, I was working on a sexually, maladaptive unit, when a new kid came in. He was 16, but was much smaller in stature. He was timid, but with a kind disposition and a thick southern drawl. He was with us for weeks with no behavior issues or acting out. We secretly discussed why he would be with us; so little was known about his history. But then the first incident happened. Two peers arguing caused him to run into his room and hide while curled up in the fetal position. The same behavior happened days later when staff brought in “treats” for the residents. As we watched this unfold, we learned his mom had virtually used him as a sex slave. She would withhold food and necessities from him until he performed certain “acts” with her and anybody else she brought into the home.

Here he was right in front of me. Unmentionable things happened to him. He was hidden in plain sight, within our own borders.

But…eventually I switched jobs. After all, I had my hopes and dreams to focus on.

A few years later, I found myself hiking in the mountains of Costa Rica going to villages with shut-ins. There were shanties everywhere divided between Costa Ricans and Nicas. As we were walking through one village, I noticed that as I approached their houses or simply walked by, they would discreetly push their children behind them. Steve, the missionary I was working with, informed me that because I was a white, foreigner they thought I might try to take their children. It apparently had happened before.

But…eventually I went home. Costa Rica was a far off place and I had my hopes and dreams to focus on.

But…eventually I could no longer ignore what I had seen, heard, experienced.

Now, my days are consumed with words like…

trafficking…

prostitution…

and Slavery.

That last word has been plaguing my thoughts lately. I can’t seem to get away from it. Perhaps, it’s because I remember reading about slavery, The Civil War, and the 13th Amendment and thinking it was all in the past. Perhaps, it’s an arrogant thought that it can’t really happen now. We’ve come too far; we’ve progressed.

Yet, it’s still there. It’s estimated that there are more slaves today than ANY other time in history-potentially as many as 27 million (Kevin Bales, Disposable People).

But the part that has been troubling me, causing me to lose sleep, and my mind to spin is the intention behind the act. I get this is one of my downfalls. I’m constantly trying to figure out why people do what they do. I have a lot of hope in people (most days) and probably have a little bit of “save the world” complex.

As I was reading about slavery throughout history and in other cultures, the realization that the slaves-based on race, gender, class-were not/are not seen as people. They are seen as property. Their humanity was/is stripped from them.

In our society, however, that is not the case. In fact, the very thing traffickers exploit is humanity. They look at these children, recognize them as people with hopes and dreams, and they don’t care!

I read an article today, complete with prezi presentation, by a pimp describing how he uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a tool to “make more money.” He sees a girl, offers safety and security in order to control her. He sees a girl, expresses love, acceptance, and belonging in order to control her. He encourages the girl to dream only to hold that very dream within his control.

He sees her humanity and doesn’t care.

Where do I go with this?

How do I combat such a mindset?

Maybe, it starts with offering safety and security, not as a means of control, but as an act of kindness.

Maybe, it starts with expressing love, acceptance, and belonging with no strings attached.

Maybe, it starts with focusing a little less on my hopes and dreams, in order to bring focus to someone else.

william-wilberforce-knowing

Liberty

thomas jeffersonLost in a sea of junior highers, Amanda and I found ourselves at The Jefferson Memorial this week. The overwhelming chaos (we’re talking hundreds of 12-14 year olds) could not take away from the moment.

When Amanda recommended the Jefferson, I haphazardly went along. I was indifferent as to the location of where we went, as long as we got out and did something before the conference was in full swing and our minds were spinning.

We started on our journey with a quick stop at Starbucks (of course) and was distracted with a woman from West Palm Beach who was also working in anti-trafficking. Her passion for the issue was contagious and time flew by without us realizing it. Lucky for us, most of the monuments stay open for 24 hours, so at 8pm we were off…well kind of. We were actually stopped by the doorman who after giving me the “parent” look and a quick head shake, informed me that he would be more than happy to hail us a cab as soon as I went back upstairs and put on a coat.

As the cab dropped us off, I was mesmerized by the evening and the memorial. We couldn’t have went at a more perfect time. Everything was lit just right. And, once we were inside, I was sold.

jefferson memorial
Everywhere I looked, there were quotes on true liberty and freedom. It shook me to my core to think that the battle for these simple words have been waging for years. As one hurdle is overcome, more hurdles emerge, or at least a new awareness does.

At one point, Amanda and I were standing in the rotunda, reading about liberty and surrounded by these kids when Amanda looked over at me and said, “these kids are the same age as many of the girls we are working with.”

The reality hit quicker than I expected. We were in DC for a conference in anti-trafficking. We know all the statistics and many of them we’ve experienced. I can tell you that close to 80-90% of our girls had a sexual trauma before the age of 13. I can tell you that the youngest victim we have worked with at this point is 12, but we’ve recently received calls about numerous 11 year olds.

I’ve watched as young girls are triggered by simple things like a cell phone going off, loud music, or in one instance an exit sign. I’ve heard story after story of young girls being ripped of their innocence, their choice, their childhood.

As I stood there that night I was filled with a little bit of despair, BUT I was also filled with a lot of hope. I was reminded that all throughout history, good men and women have stood up and fought for their freedoms and liberties, as well as for other people’s. I was reminded that today, there are men and women fighting for my freedom and my voice. And, I was reminded that what I am doing is not in vain, or impossible for that matter. If one girl realizes what true freedom is and what her voice is, it is worth it.

So, as I celebrate Veteran’s Day today, I can celebrate with a new perspective and a new understanding of what freedom truly is.

“You’ve had alot of luck with humans!”

I was setting in the office with a co-worker and a friend catching up on business, life, and everything in between. In the past year, she’s watched what can only be called the evolution of my homelessness. I somehow went from being a proud owner of two homes, to being a proud owner of two homes in another town and with no place call mine. But, in the midst of the chaos, I was never really without a home, even if it wasn’t my own.

A little over a year ago, I decided to resign my job with really no place to go. Although, I’ve always been impulsive in day to day life, that part of me has been balanced by a healthy dose of responsibility and hard work. And, in that moment those two things seemed to be a distant thought. I found myself jobless, homeless, and directionless.

But, then a crazy thing happened. Within a few weeks, I had a few job opportunities. One was close to my hometown where my family was, with good pay, and well, it probably would have been easy. The second was a grassroot non-profit, that was an hour away, was part-time, but was full of creative possibility. Now, my two sides were in conflict. Who would win out: the impulsive, optimist or the responsible, realist? In the end, the possibility and excitement won out.

But, there was still the dilemma of income, housing, travel…

That’s where the humans come in! Starting with my generous sister, I began a journey of moving from one place to another. My sis graciously decided to house all of my household belongings, including my expansive shoe collection, about a million pieces of furniture, and a book collection that would rival any library. She also decided to house me and found myself living the life of a commuter driving to the city several days a week. (She still graciously agrees to house my things, although if you ask her the lines between where her things and mine have started to blend together).

As the work load and business increased, I found myself driving more days than not. Maybe the exhaustion showed on my face, or the crankiness appeared in my tone, regardless, as I was going to an evening class, a lady from church asked if I would like to stay in her basement. Now, I was able to have a small haven in the city when I was there. As K welcomed me into her home, we spent many times talking late into the night about family, friends, and often theology. I would often wake up in the mornings to a cup of coffee to go and suddenly found myself addicted to Biggest Loser. Eventually, family things came up and I found myself commuting again.

But, before I knew it another family from church offered their home. For a week, their five year old gave up his bed in the basement for me. The few nights I stayed with them, I went to bed with their two year old tucking me in and making sure I was ok. And, one precious moment, I woke up to Z (the five year old) looking at me from the loft above. When he saw I was awake, he smiled and said, “you can have my bed if you want it. I think you need it more than I do.”

A few weeks later, I found myself at L & J’s apartment in the heart of St. Louis. L and I stuck our heads out the window and instantly I fell in love with the city I now get to work in and call home. Staying there was like a vacation and it came at a perfect time. I felt completely out of control (remember that responsible side, well it likes control) and there home made the chaos fade away. L and I would listen to Bob Marley and the Beatles after work, we looked at cultural magazines, and made sushi. Dinner consisted of discussions on this journey called life and each morning they had breakfast waiting on me.

Then, another L took me in. The amazing thing is she didn’t even know me. Once people heard about my homeless plight, they sent out emails to all their friends. L heard about what The Covering House and my situation from a friend. Simply out of kindness, she offered her home. Our nights often consisted of talking about horror dates and watching the Cardinal games. She also had the creative, baking side that often benefited this chocalate lover.

And, now I find myself moving to my fifth home in a year. This one is a little more permanent (fingers crossed). But, again I find myself blessed with the kindness of a stranger opening her home to me. I received a phone call telling me she was purchasing new furniture for me, she’s being flexible, and tolerates my crazy work schedule.

As I relayed this newest roommate to my co-worker, she looked at me and said, “You’ve had alot of luck with humans.” And, she’s right. I’m grateful everyday for my journey this past year. It’s taught me to live simplistic. It’s shown me the kindness in people. It’s given me new experiences. But, most importantly it has shown me that this journey is as much about the people we encounter as the experiences we have.