Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rapha House & Human Trafficking

On Monday I finished reading through the New Testament, and Revelation 22 had an unexpected surprise for me.

Revelation 22:1-2 - "And the angel showed me a pure river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, coursing down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations."

I will preface this by saying that I have a leaf tattooed on the palm of my left hand. It's significance came to me from Psalm 1 (for the full context, see the previous blog) and Isaiah 49.

Psalm 1:3 - "They (the godly) are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

Isaiah 49:16 - (God speaking to his people:) "See, I have written your name on my hand."

In Revelation, we see that the leaves are for healing. My name is Laurel, which is a type of leaf, and the name means, "Crowned with Victory." My husbands name is Jason, which means, "Healer." After reading this, I see that he and I are symbolically even more fit for each other than we might have realized. My journaled, "Lord, please use my prayers and my life to heal the nations." No doubt this was a big prayer that one might never even be congnizant of the answer to, but in my case, I began to see it flesh itself out that very day.

Earlier in the week, the Lord brought the global tragedy of human trafficking to my heart, and I began praying about it and researching what opportunities might be available to help with this in my own small way within my community. I found Rapha House, which, incidentally, in Hebrew, means "Healing House." It is an educational and fund raising facility for safe houses for young girls being rescued from child prostitution in Cambodia and Thailand. I took a visit there on Monday afternoon and received a tour and gave them my name for future volunteer opportunities. I look forward to becoming more educated myself, and helping with this task as much as I can that is so central to the heart of God.

Tomorrow is Third Thursday here in Joplin, which is an Art walk down Main Street each month. They told me at Rapha House that they have several hundred visitors pass through on these nights. May hearts be touched and people be motivated to participate in setting these captives free.

Isaiah 61:1-3 - "This Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD's favor has come, and with it the day of God's anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the LORD has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory."

The "Bad Man" in Our Hearts

After one of the hardest, yet most amazing summers of my life, I am finally ready to sit down and write again. I've got some reflections, mostly rooted in Scripture, and a little Ted Dekker to boot.

From my daily reading yesterday:
Psalm 1 - "Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, of join in with scoffers. But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

But this is not true of the wicked. They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction."

In Ted Dekker's book, Three, he points out through his captivating story-telling, that each of us have these three parts to us: the good, the bad, and that which mediates between the two of them, deciding which choice to ultimately make in the end. I've heard it described many ways, most recently as a dog fight between a black and a white dog. So which side has the likelier chance of winning? Obviously whichever dog you feed more. And the dog that is starved is more likely to lose.

I recently heard one child ask another, "Do you have God in your heart?" The answer was a thoughtful, though slightly hesitant yes. It was then followed up with what I found to be a brilliant and concrete explanation of the human dillema: "But there's also a bad man in my heart." Could we as adults have said it any better, or been any more in tune? I explained that the good news is, because we also have God in our hearts, when the "bad man" tells us to do the wrong thing, we can ask God for help to do the right thing.

Lord, may I feed the white dog, and starve the black. May I call on You for help when the bad man would like to have his way.

Isaiah 26:2 - "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you!"

I have also heard this phenomenon described as a scale with two balances. The flesh reigns over one side, and the Spirit over the other. Whichever side we choose to give our mind to is the side that will be tipped in the balances.

Romans 8:6 - "If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace."

So if there is one in Christ who is not experiencing life and peace, all one needs to do is turn from the flesh and turn to the Spirit, and it is sure to come. And likewise, if there is one outside of Christ who is not experiencing life and peace, all one needs to do is the same. It is simply called repentance. Turning from sin and turning to God, surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, and receiving his forgiveness and cleansing.

2 Corinthians 3:17 - "... wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

As self-willed human beings, we do not want to be lorded over by anyone, but the truth is, we are either slaves to sin, or slaves to God.

Romans 6:16 - "Don't you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval."

Mark 10:45 - "For even the Son of Man came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus Christ is the only Lord who is also a servant. Sin certainly will not offer us this advantage.

And the other thing I've found is that every freedom also has a corresponding bondage. I can be free from the burden of brushing my teeth, but then I will be in bondage to dental bills and all kinds of oral nastiness. Or, I can subject myself to the wisdom of brushing my teeth, and have the corresponding freedom of good teeth. In the same way, I can submit myself to the will and way of God and Jesus Christ, and I can experience life and peace. Or I can separate myself from his commands, and experience the natural consequences in life... not to mention a long term judgment, which really is only the continuation of the natural consequences of my choices on earth.

But this is not the heart of God. This is not his desire for you or me.

2 Peter 3:9 - "The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent."

My peace is found in repentance, and humbling myself before the Lord, and walking in relationship with Him, but also as need be, before my fellow man.

Romans 12:18 - "Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as is possible."

This is what I strive for, though as indicated in the passage, it may not always be possible.

Come, Lord Jesus! Fill us with the Holy Spirit. And may the white dog win in all of our hearts!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sunset Beach & Divine Appointments

Since I grew up in Southern California, I tried to learn to surf once. I nearly drowned myself, so that quickly came to an end. It worked out alright, though, as I don't really like being cold and wet. I do, however, like to read and pray, and LOVE spending time in nature As a result, I decided that the better choice for me was to sit on the rock jeddy at Sunset beach, WATCH the surfers, and do what I preferred. I did this often on Sunday mornings before church, and ended up meeting many interesting people.

One Sunday I had just gotten back from Italy, and ended up meeting an Italian man who ended up following me to church and enjoying a service. Another time I had just gotten back from the Philippines and met a Philipino girl who allowed me to pray for her. I loved the "coincidences" that led to great conversations and opened the doors to conversate about spiritual things. Divine appointments are one of my favorite things to pray for, and then continue with my life and watch as the Lord works out His creative plans.

Stick Shifts & Safety Belts

This title is a tribute to the "Cake" song that I love with the same name. Special thanks to my brother for introducing me to it. Check it out on youtube if you want a moment of enjoyment:

The real story I want to tell is short and sweet, so I thought I'd spice it up a bit with a little extra fun. :) It's the story of when & how I learned to drive stick.

It was the end of my freshman year of college and I was getting ready to spend the summer in Washington state doing an ministry internship with my former youth pastor, Byron Waggoner. I was sitting in a computer lab one day and heard a rather random word from the Lord: "You're going to learn to drive stick soon. Just wanted you to know. :)" It seemingly came out of nowhere, but it definitely felt like it had the smiley-faced emoticon at the end of it.

A couple days later Byron called. We were discussing logistics of the summer and he asked, "You know how to drive stick, right?" No, I replied. "Well I guess you'll be learning soon, because the car I got you to drive for the summer is stick."

So when I got to Washington, Byron taught me to drive a stick-shift, in a yellow VW Bug that I named "Guardian." I used to think that would be a cool name for a boy, and we could call him Ian for short... Jason's probably glad that the car came first. ;)

Mentoring Prostitutes

I began a four-year discipleship program with my youth pastor when I was 12 years old. One of the things he taught me about was how to keep a prayer diary and to pray regularly for missionaries and world issues. I remember from these early days, developing a heart specifically for prostitues. I prayed that the Lord would raise up people to love them in purity and pay them to bring them home and care for them as human beings, rather than for their regular services. This is a prayer that has stayed with me over the years, until not so long ago, I realized I was now old enough to be part of the answer.

Last year, one of Jason's mentors gave him a book to read called "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire," by Jim Cymbala. It rocked him and inspired his prayer life in a way I hadn't seen in him before. As a result, we began staying at church after first service to pray through 2nd service. It was in one of those prayer times that the Lord began speaking to my heart about my role in ministry to prostitues.

It may not come as a large surprise that Jason was not immediately inclined in the direction I was feeling pulled. He didn't want to have anyone over for dinner, but he was open to me exploring other opportunities with already established ministries. This was when I learned about Heather Veitch. Heather is a former stripper, who came to the Lord, and after a season of separation, she now goes back into strip clubs to share Christ with other girls. Heather is based in Las Vegas, so I knew I wouldn't be working with her, but I started looking in Dallas for similar ministries. Needless to say, Heather is unique, and I didn't find anything quite along those lines. I think Jason was a bit relieved.

After a fairly extensive online search, I found Homeward Bound. Homeward Bound is an inhouse treatment center that works with the Dallas Police Department in what they call "Prostitution Diversion Initiative." Police Officers were noting an alarming trend: truck drivers coming through the city, hiring prostitutes, using their services, and then killing them before they continued out of town within a day, virtually untrackable. The officers realized this was happening in alarming numbers, and these women were dying as Jane Doe's. As a result, they set up a monthly sting operation to focus more intently on arresting prostitutes, essentially to protect them from the liabilities of their work. Many of these women are then given the option of a jail sentence, or a period of time at Homeward Bound, where they can get tools to change their life patterns if they want the help. This is where I come in. As part of their design for rehabilitation, Homeward Bound has a mentoring program to allow these women to interact with other ladies from different walks of life, to share their stories and to be encouraged. I decided to become a mentor.

Homeward Bound is located in Oak Cliff, which is in South Dallas, and does not have a reputation for safety or high end living. The first night I went to the training session, my drivers side car window was shattered, but fortunately nothing was taken. I wasn't able to get it repaired til the next day, and wouldn't you just know it snowed that night! The beauty of it, though, was that I didn't mind much at all! My heart was so full with this amazing opportunity that lay before me. What a privilege to sow positive seeds into the lives of these women, and expand my own life experience through the stories of their lives.

I met many women over the 5 months I was able to participate in this program, and even had the privilege of leading the first young girl I met with to the Lord. Another woman was already a Christian and lead Bible Studies in the unit, but sadly returned to crack and an abusive boyfriend just a couple weeks after her release. Another woman ran away from home at 15 and found she was able to make a very nice living in prostitution, and therefore found no motivation to stop, until she realized dealing drugs was just as lucrative. Yet another woman, self-admitted to the center, was working on her PhD while gainfully employed at three jobs. One job was for the bills, the 2nd was for her drugs, and the 3rd was for extra money. She had always been a very functional addict, and therefore was never really motivated to stop. When her live-in boyfriend found out, they decided together that it was time. She had never sold herself, but had other racy jobs to help satisfy her income requirements. The last woman I met with, had "changed teams" as she phrased it, after many abusive relationships with men. Her girlfriend lived in Houston, and she was encouraging her to stay there, so she could start her life over in Dallas around people who would be a better influence. She said her conscience convicted her of her lifestyle so much that she wasn't even able to enjoy it! It was also, she said, the only thing keeping her out of church. After our conversation she seemed prone to revert to her "original team," and I told her I would pray for the right people to continue to encourage her in the right direction.

My impact in the lives of these women was small, but they repeatedly commented on how nice it was to have some time out with someone who was positive and could speak encouragement into their lives. As Jason & I transition to Missouri, I hope in some way I will be the answer to other people's prayers... and maybe even my own.

Pregnant With Possibilities

Thanksgiving 2008, Jason & I drove to Missouri. On our way there we listened to a message by Skip Heitzig on the book of Genesis. At one point he referenced Sarah, and the promise she received that she would be with child one year from that date. As I heard it, I sensed the Spirit whisper to my spirit that I too would be pregnant one year from that date. At first I was excited, then I realized that this wouldn't fit very well into our get-out-of-debt/then-start-a-family plan, and suggested to the Lord that His timing might not be right on this one! Haha... don't we always know so much better than He does?! Or not.

Throughout the next year, this thought came back to my mind. I contemplated pregnancy and the bigger picture of our lives. I still wasn't sure I wanted this so soon, but knew it would really be a blessing whenever it came, and that the Lord had the biggest picture in mind. Then, right around 4th of July, I sensed the Spirit speak again that at this same time the next year we would have a baby. The timing seemed to line up with a November pregnancy, so I continued to ponder.

Thanksgiving 2009 we found ourselves driving to Missouri again. The day before we left we signed up for advertizing with The Knot Wedding Websites for our Catering company. It was a big move, and I felt the Lord speak to my spirit that we were pregnant with possibilities! I considered the timing, and realized it was one year from the date that He told me we'd be pregnant. Normally this type of interpretation would feel like a cop out to me, but since it came directly from the Lord, I thought I might take it!

As the early months of 2010 progressed, we began to realize that our move to Missouri was imminent. A day or two before the idea came up, I saw a notice on our kitchen table from our apartment complex indicating that our lease was up at the end of June. As plans took shape, we realized we would be getting to Missouri for Jason to start his career as an Executive Chef right around the 4th of July! We even tried to move up our date, and just didn't feel a peace.

In November we were pregnant with career possibilities, and in July we will be giving birth to his full-fledged cooking career! AND, in the process, we will be enhancing our ability to get out of debt, not diminishing it!!! The Lord is so good, and so creative in His communication! And Lord willing, babies will start coming around 2012!

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand."

- Proverbs

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Mother of Many"

My junior year of high school I began attending the Malibu Vineyard. This was the first time in my experience in the church where I was positively introduced to the more charismatic gifts of the Spirit. And I began exploring personal experiences with these demonstrations of the power of God. After a week of studying the Scriptures to make sure it was Biblical, I began praying in tongues for the first time during a worship at a Friday night youth service. According to 1 Corinthians 14:4, I was edifying my spirit as I prayed in this way.

Over the years since then, I've heard stories and personally experienced a few examples of the gift of interpretation of tongues. None of these have been so compelling to me as what I experienced when I moved to Texas and became a leader in a youth ministry where students were practically trained in these gifts. One of the other youth leaders had a small group where he explained to the youth that he was going to pray in tongues, and if anyone understood what he was saying, just let him know. After he finished, one of the girls in the group said, "Sure, I understand. Here's what you said..." She said it was as though she heard the words translated in her mind into English.

I was fascinated with this practical method of discovering spiritual gifts, and wanted to experience it personally. So one Sunday after church I went to lunch with this student and her small group leader. I prayed for a few minutes in tongues, and she wrote down what she heard. I have the full paragraph in my old journal, and may add that later, but the part I remember that resonated strongly in my spirit was this part of my prayer: "Lord, make me a Mother of Many."

Last year when I started attending Trinity Church in Dallas, I quickly got to know several of the staff members, but was still unknown to the youth pastor, Dustin Sample. Those that I spoke with knew that my background was in youth ministry, and told him about me at a staff meeting. The next day at a prayer meeting several church leaders stood up to give prophetic words. Dustin, who is very gifted in this way, chose me out of the crowd and said, among other things, "You are a mother of many." All the other staffers laughed at his accuracy, as he spoke without a natural clue. And while everyone else knew my background in ministry, no one else knew the deep prayer of my heart that was recognized that day in the word that he gave.

Last Monday we celebrated Memorial Day with Dustin, his family, and several other families from the church. As we were getting ready to leave, knowing that this was one of our last times together before our move, Dustin said, "Don't forget that word I gave you when you came. You are a mother of many." The depths of my spirit responded immediately, and I fought to choke back the tears.

What might this look like in Missouri? I suppose we never fully know in advance, but my spirit is expectant for His purposes.