Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learning is a Gift

Funny story.

Four years ago today, I started a blog that started with those same two words. Four years ago, I was here in Ontario. We hadn't moved yet, but we were looking at houses, trying to decide where to move. Four years ago today, I was an absolute wreck.

The blog from May 20, 2007 - which will be four years ago tomorrow consists of this:

Failure - definition: "a person or thing that proves unsuccessful" That sums me up right there.

And on May 21, 2007, I wrote this:

Is it terrible to want to be loved? To crave it with the deepest part of me? Affection is something I need. Please. Someone. Anyone. Take a look at me. Look me in the eyes and tell me that I am genuinely happy. I dare you. I bet you it is impossible. My eyes are cold and hard. My deepest desire is overshadowed by the fear of rejection that clouds over anything good that ever existed. I. Need. You. To. Love. Me.

I was fourteen years old. Seriously depressed. I wanted to die, but I was excellent at fooling people. I convinced my doctors and therapists that I was fine. I was a master manipulator. But oh man, I was lonely.

I had friends, but no one knew the real me. I didn't feel like I could trust anyone enough to let them in to the extent that I wanted to, especially because I would be moving so soon.

Looking back, and comparing my issues then to the things I am dealing with now - they are very similar. No, I don't want to die; but I have been lonely. I've come to the conclusion that sometimes, it seems to be easier to be lonely than to risk being hurt in relationship. When I am in control of my relationships, I can always push people away or block them out when I start feeling uncomfortable.

I say that my issues today are similar to the ones that I dealt with back then, but I have changed so much in the past four years. I hit rock bottom, and God has begun the rebuilding process. I'm nowhere near finished...which is so evident today as I reflect on where I have come from and where I am going, but I see so much growth. The fact that I can even recognize my tendency to isolate and keep people at arms length is huge. I see that I have people around me who are safe. I'm working on learning how to be in relationship with them in the real world.

As cheesy as this sounds, I'm learning that failure is simply a stepping stone to success. I don't need to settle for failure, but when I do fall, when I do mess up...I learn from it. I see what doesn't work, and I see what I need to change in order to be successful the next time I come up against that challenge.

I am so grateful for this journey that I am on. I'm in a season of learning, and I love it. I love to learn, even when it hurts.

I can say in all honesty that I never want to cease to be a student. I want to be a student of God and His Word first and foremost, but I also want to be a student of people, of life, and of myself.

"The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live."
~Mortimer Adler

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Human Trafficking

A little girl is chained to a bed in a cold, damp, concrete room. All she's wearing is a tattered silver negligee. She hears footsteps coming down the stairs and she tries to hide in the corner. The door to the room opens and she knows what comes next. This is the twelfth time that she's been forced to have sex today, and it won't be the last.

Sadly, this is the reality of so many children throughout the world.

It is human trafficking.

For those of you who don't know what human trafficking is, I will share a little bit about what it is, and after that, I will tell you a little bit about how it captured my heart.

According to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, human trafficking is defined as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs."

Many people assume that trafficking only occurs in third world countries, but that is not true. Many people are trafficked into North America annually. Not only are people trafficked into the country, but they are also trafficked within the country.

In the US, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 children are at risk of being trafficked for sexual purposes each year.

A report from Canada's Criminal Intelligence Service estimates that domestic traffickers earn an average of $280,000 annually from each victim that they possess. The sex trade is proving to be more profitable than the drug trade with much less risk attached. Human trafficking wasn't even considered a crime in Canada until 2005.

I don't know about you, but I consider this issue to be an absolute atrocity. The victims of this horrific crime against humanity are people just like you and me. The only difference is that they are modern day slaves, and we are free.

It breaks my heart to hear the overwhelming statistics regarding sex trafficking specifically. The abuse that these people endure is unimaginable. Some of the stories I have heard make me want to vomit.

And so I ask myself, "What can I do about this? How can I make a difference?"

I believe the answer to this question is best described in an essay I wrote for a scholarship. So I'm going to include it in this post.

(Although it talks about Williamson Christian College, it really is about how I feel like God is going to use me to impact lives.)

"“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
Isaiah 61:1-4

When I was a child, I dreamed a dream. Simply put, my dream was to make an impact on this world. For years, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was always, “I want to be a pediatrician.” To me, that seemed like
the most realistic way to change the world.

One life at a time.

As the years passed though, the dream in my heart grew more and more dim. Eventually, it seemed that the dream had disappeared. No longer did I wake up in the morning looking for the way that I could impact someone’s life. Instead, I went to bed each night begging God to let me die. I believed the lies of the enemy that I would never amount to anything.

My behaviour reflected the hopelessness that had taken root inside of me. I was struggling with a severe eating disorder, self harm, and major depression. I attempted suicide more times than I care to count. I dropped out of high school, and was not expected to live to see my eighteenth birthday. Thankfully, God had other plans.

Last year, I applied to a program called Mercy Ministries as a last-ditch attempt at life. While I was there, the Lord reawakened the dream that I once had. I learned that that dream was actually placed in my heart by Him, and that He would help me to achieve it. I learned that I had not disqualified myself from a life of impacting others. Since then, God has lead me down a path of discovering my true identity in Christ. As I seek Him, I find myself more and more.

I met a girl while I was at Mercy who quickly became one of my closest friends. She is a victim of domestic sex trafficking. I had heard of human trafficking before, although I knew next to nothing about it. I thought it was some faraway issue that didn’t affect me here in North America at all. When I met this girl though, everything changed. God moved in my heart and I found myself interceding for the people who are affected by this atrocity here in North America on a nightly basis. I spent countless hours on my floor sobbing because words could not describe the ache in my heart for these young women. While I was at Mercy, there was nothing I could do other than pray – and that is just what I did.

Since graduating from Mercy in September, I have not stopped talking about this issue. God has taught me that I have a voice, and that my voice matters! My words can change lives! With that in mind, I speak. I speak out against domestic sex trafficking and human trafficking as a whole. I refuse to be silent about an issue that people seem to brush under the rug. I realize that it is not a pretty thing to talk about, but if everyone stays silent, nothing will be done to abolish this horrific act against humanity.

However, my dream does not end with my voice. It carries on into the lives of the thousands of people affected by this issue each year. This is where Williamson Christian College comes in. In order to move forward in the call of God on my life, I need to be better equipped. My ultimate goal is to open a residential facility for young women who have been rescued out of the grip of their traffickers to come and have their lives transformed from the inside out. I believe that these girls deserve the best, and I want them to have the best God has to offer.

I believe that by receiving my education from Williamson Christian College, God will equip me with many of the resources that I need in order to provide for these girls. I plan to get my degree in non-profit management which will teach me the in’s and out’s of facilitating a program that will best allow God to move in these young lives. The electives that are offered at Williamson will also assist me in my journey by helping me to get a well-rounded education and educate me as to how to address the mental and emotional aspects of their care.

After I graduate from Williamson Christian College, my plan is to go on to graduate school to obtain my Masters degree in counseling or something of that nature, but who knows where God will take me by the time these next four years have passed.

In reference to the scripture that I shared at the beginning of this essay, I truly believe that God has called me to preach the good news of freedom and redemption to those who have been in very real, tangible bondage. I believe that as I embark on this path of education that I will see lives transformed by the Holy Spirit wherever I go. I believe that the work that God has done in my life will be a catalyst in the lives of others.

I am honoured that God has chosen me to be the vessel that He will use to transform many lives – and I am confident that Williamson Christian College is the place that will equip me to accomplish my childhood dream.

To change the world – one life at a time."

All in all, I am believing for the complete abolition of human trafficking, both domestically and internationally. I am believing that everyone who is held captive will be released. I am believing for transformed lives all around.

I'm sure this is not the last time you will hear about trafficking from me, considering it is my hearts' cry to see it come to an end. If you have any questions or want more info on the topic, let me know and I will do what I can to answer you.

I am Blessed.

Tonight feels like a good night to write. About what, you may ask? Well, I guess we'll both find out together.

My heart is rather heavy. I suppose that there are many contributing factors tonight. I keep hearing story after story of people who have lost everything. From the fires raging in Northern Alberta to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan; from the earthquake in Haiti last year to the children sold into slavery by their families; from a life ravaged by terminal illness to the person who was hurt so badly that they shut everyone out.

I can't help but think...that could so easily be me. I could be that person who shut everyone out. I could be the one who is completely and utterly alone in the world, but by the grace of God, I am not.

Tonight I count myself blessed to lead the life I do - but how often do I take my blessings for granted? I am alive. I have a family who loves me. I have food to eat. I can go to church and worship God freely. I have people who care about my well-being.

All too often though, I get so caught up in wanting more that I neglect to look around and see what I already have. The constant wanting for more is so exhausting. It takes up so much of my time and energy that I don't stop to look around.

It's on nights like these, when God stops me in my tracks and makes me look around, that I realize just how blessed I am.

I don't want to take advantage of this blessing. I don't want to take advantage of my freedom.

What I do want to do, though, is bring my blessing to other people. I want to share the blessings that God has so graciously poured out on my life with others.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

He Who Promised Is Faithful

I've really been struggling to write...because I just haven't really had words.
I still don't really...but I'm writing this blog to remind me of what I know to be truth.

While I was at Mercy, God birthed a dream within me. That dream requires an education. I know that I'm going to be in school for a long time...because, well...1) it was prophesied over me by Jane Hamon and 2) I love to learn and have big goals for myself educationally.

Until recently, I didn't know what that education was going to look like though. Since December, I have been accepted to three different schools. Two in Nashville, and one just outside of Boston.

Up until a month ago, I was struggling to make my choice about which school to attend. The struggle really wasn't about the schools though, because either way I would get a great education. I had to decide which city to live in - and I had so many people telling me all different things. Most said Boston, some said Nashville. God said that He'd bless me either way, but He wanted me to make the choice. Man, did that ever frustrate me. I have always been very indecisive, and I much prefer it when other people make my tough choices for me. However, I'm a "grown up" now. I have to learn to make my own decisions for my life.

So I chose Nashville.

I chose Nashville for many reasons. The main one being that I know myself. I know my tendency to isolate, and I know how easy it would be for me to get caught up in that if I were to move to a place where no one knows me. Nashville, I have people who know me...people who I trust. I see potential for me to build incredible relationships with people. Healthy friendships.

[I've never had a truly healthy friendship before, so this is a whole new ball game for me. I think it'll be really cool to have friends outside of the "eating disorder" and "treatment" circle. Not that there's anything wrong with that...but sometimes there is.]

The funny thing is, as soon as I made the decision, another door opened up. Things fell together so quickly, and I ended up getting accepted to yet another Franklin. This time though, the possibility arose for me to be awarded a full scholarship.

So I wrote the essay, and the President of the College voted yes. He thinks that I should get the full scholarship. There are only three people on the committee, so the likelihood of that happening is very high. comes the part that is causing me so many issues right now...

In order for the school to officially accept me and issue my I-20 (which I need in order to get my student visa), I have to have an official bank statement showing that I can pay for the cost of one year's tuition plus living expenses.

That's a problem. I've been consistently unemployed since I graduated. I have no money. How on earth am I supposed to get a bank statement that says I have thousands of dollars? So I tried to come up with a solution, but that solution hasn't worked yet either.

Did I mention that this all needs to happen really soon? I'm supposed to start class in July.

Oh yeah, and I need to find a place to live. That's proving to be quite the challenge as well...because I don't want to live with just anyone.

...and now I'm back to square one. If I can't get this bank statement, then I can't go to school in the States. I can't be accepted to any school in Canada due to the...erm...frustrating fact that they didn't grant me equivalent credits for all the work I did at Mercy.

My pre-Mercy grades were not good at all...but they didn't reflect my ability in the least. But I mean, how could they? I basically dropped out of school halfway into the first semester of 11th grade. I spent more time at the hospital than anywhere else, and I didn't even want to be alive. I guarantee you school was not high on my priority list.

The more I think about it, the more I start to doubt. The more I doubt, the more distraught I become.

I finally feel like my life is getting started. I'm moving out. Getting a car. Going to college. Doing internships. Making a difference. But I feel like it could so easily just end again. If I am not able to work out the details to get my student visa, then I'm stuck here. Going nowhere.

Here's the part where I state the truth:

God is not a man that He should lie! God promised that He would bless me for making that decision, and He has. He opened up the door for me to go to Williamson Christian College (for free?) starting in July. That is a major answer to prayer - because I just want to get there and get started.

For the past few days, whenever I think about this issue, the same phrase pops into my head.

"He who promised is faithful."

I knew that it was from the Bible somewhere, and it just so happens to be from Hebrews 10:23. It says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." {Fun fact: I memorized that verse back in 6th grade when I first started Bible Quizzing!}

"He who promised is faithful."

He is faithful. He keeps His word. He hasn't brought me this far just to completely abandon me.

"He who promised is faithful."

I will hold UNSWERVINGLY to the hope that I profess, because He who promised is faithful.

I'm going to be in Nashville for the start of classes in July. God has opened all the doors so far, and I will trust Him to work out the intricate details of the visa process.

Although, if you wouldn't mind praying for me in this process, I would really appreciate it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beautiful Things

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (NIV)

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (NLT)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (NKJV)

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons (buds/blossoms)! Look at it! (MSG)

The above are four different versions of the same scripture - 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Whenever I hear this verse, it always brings me back to my days at Mercy and how I had to die to self when I was there. I had to let God rid me of that old life and make me new. Please hear me when I say that that is definitely an amazing process! The whole idea that God is able to make all things new - everything...even the most broken life...and mold it into something that reflects His image - is truly mind-boggling.

I have heard this particular verse more times than I can even count. It has, in fact, just become another verse that I can quote when it is appropriate, but it lost it's value to me...that is, until cell tonight.

Sometimes, when I read this verse, I actually feel horrible about myself. I look at my life, and I look at the standard that seems to be set by this verse and I think that I failed. I find myself thinking thoughts along the lines of 'What new? All I see is old.' and 'Clearly I'm not a good enough Christian because my life isn't reflecting this. I'm not 'new'. Maybe I never will be?'

My cell leader, Chrissi, was having a conversation with a friend about this very thing recently. She shared it with us tonight, and what she shared really hit me. I'm still digesting everything, but I decided to blog about it to help process the truth. She focused on the concept of "newness".

When something is new to you, it doesn't necessarily make a whole lot of sense. It's confusing. You make mistakes along the way while you're learning how to master the new thing. But that's give yourself grace because the whole concept of doing whatever it is that you are doing is new.

For example, when someone first gets their drivers license, they don't automatically get behind the wheel and do everything properly. No, they have to learn how to drive. It's a process.

So why is it that when the Lord reveals to us something that we need to work on, we feel so horrible when we don't get it right the first time? God gives us grace because He expects us to mess up. He doesn't expect us to get everything right on the first try. But somehow, we've gotten it into our heads that that is exactly what needs to happen.

Another thing we talked about is how maturity directly correlates to ability and responsibility. When we are babies, we are not mature enough to cut the lawn. I mean, think about how absurd it would be if we expected a 10 month old infant to cut the grass? Eventually, we will be expected to cut the lawn, however before that is to happen, we have other key skills that we need to develop. First we have to learn to crawl, then to stand up on our own, then to walk, run, and jump. We have to learn how to do all these key motor skills before we can even begin to learn how to cut grass. Once we get to the point where we have mastered these skills, then we are ready to begin learning how to mow the lawn.

The same goes for us as Christians. When we first become a Christian, our whole world changes. Everything is new! It's overwhelming when you look at the mountain of new things you have to learn and eventually conquer. Everything from your old life becomes something that you have to change. You have to change the way you think, the way you speak, and the way you act. Essentially, you have to change your whole life.

What I love about God though, is that He recognizes that it is all new to us! He sees the big picture, and He knows what we need to work on first. When you look at everything together, it seems like an impossible task, but when you are walking in relationship with God, it's possible! He starts to show us little things that need to be dealt with - one thing at a time. When He reveals an issue, the process to overcome it is all new to us! We have to learn!

For example, God shows us a lie that we've been believing, we are not automatically going to stop believing that lie. It probably doesn't even seem like a lie. For me, one of the lies that I believed for years is, "I am ugly." When I was first learning to defeat that lie, I didn't even think it was a lie! The concept that I was beautiful was brand new to me. I didn't believe it...and I never really understood it. So when it came to changing my beliefs about my appearance, God took me down a path of discovering the truth about myself. Now though, when I look in the mirror and the first thought that comes to mind is, "I'm so ugly!!", I am able to combat that lie and I don't even give it a place in my mind! The process of overcoming that lie is not "new" anymore.

God keeps revealing new things to us as we mature in our relationship with Him. Right now, He's teaching me about my tendency to seek approval from others instead of Him. The process of going to God for approval first is definitely "new". It's hard. I struggle with it everyday. But one day, it won't be new. I'll find all the approval that I could ever get with God. (Not to say that I won't LOVE receiving compliments ;) but it just won't define me.) There will be something new that I have to learn.

I'm so excited about this concept of newness because it is really teaching me to extend so much more grace to myself! It's okay for me to struggle with the new concepts and new things that I'm learning!

I am constantly being made new. I am always learning new things. I'm excited for the new things that I get to experience and the new life that I get to live!

It's so beautiful!

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