settling in…in pictures

This year has been a whirlwind of activity. So much has happened it’s been hard to catch my breath. Probably one of the biggest things is that we moved into our new home about six weeks ago. Being closer to everything and everyone has made us wonder why in the world we didn’t do this a long time ago. In all of the moving and fitting things in to the new space and settling in to new routines and rituals, there have been so many contented-sigh moments. Not just because everything is getting done, but because I’ve had so many chances to reflect on the space in which I dwell everyday, how I want it to feel, and choosing only to share space with things I find to be beautiful and useful to us. SO many projects and details. Nothing world-changing, but world-arranging for sure. Many folks have asked how things are coming or what projects I’ve been doing since we moved. So here’s a little glimpse of some of our settling-in.

My first little project was to fix up this little bookseller’s side table. I’ve always wanted one of these (who doesn’t want books-at-the-ready next to their chair or bedside?) My man spotted this little number at an antique store down the road for dirt cheap. We brought it home and changed it from this misfit forest green to a lovely shade of brown that hangs out comfortably with the rest of the room. I just love what a little jar of mineral chalk paint can do.

table-beforetable-after

I am “feathering the nest” (as Todd calls it) room by room. We started with the guest bedroom space, with some hints that remind us of the décor of our beloved India.

 india wall hangings mirror and elephantbed

Phyllis, my Survivor plant, has a new home in the kitchen where she gets plenty of sunlight and tons of attention. I wish I could say that Oprah, her orchid cousin, fares as well as she does. But for now, Phyllis will be the only plant I ever get to brag about. And yes, I name plants. Also cars.

Phyllis

Check this thing out. Is this not just pretty?? This lovely light fixture already lived in this house when we moved here. I am enjoying that because it’s really beautiful, but never something I would probably have bought myself (too fancy/expensive/hard to clean…) So now I get to see if some of those things are actually true about this beauty, or if I’ve just been scaring myself away from pretty lights for no good reason at all.

chandelier

First floor laundry. Heaven. Nothing else to say about that.

dryer

Another thing that my eyes can thank me for! I just adored this painting the second I saw it. Hiding out in the same little antique shop where we found that bookseller’s table, this scene was perched up in a funky old frame just waiting for me. Rarely does a piece of artwork just grab me so specifically, but there’s just something so interesting about it to me. Who are these folks? What are they talking about? Who was looking on at them? A few bucks in the hand of the old man who runs the shop, and these thoughts and colors now live with us permanently.

painting

The second we put together our Ikea bookshelf, I got busy stocking it with all my favorite bookshelfy things. This of course included my books, framed pictures, and some of the few keepsake things that I actually don’t mind dusting once in a while because they are just so darn special. Every day I get to look at my very favorite picture of Todd in the whole world, and the bright wide smile of our little Donna in Bangalore. Melt.

bookshelf pics

Y’all knew the “Freedom From Debt” sign was moving with us, of course! If you don’t know the story behind that, here it is: We made this FREEDOM sign from hundreds of pieces of chopped-up credit cards from our seven years facilitating Financial Peace classes at our church. Folks gave up their attachment to credit card debt and we commemorated it with this sweet ol’ thing. There’s SO much freedom represented in this little project!

freedom sign

The new Fancy Freedom Designs workshop. Love this organized workspace! Wait… who just said that?

FFD workshop

Now for some serious happy homemaking… $2 and 30 minutes… voila! Cuteness for a weird little living room nook.

wreath

And then there’s this happening in the kitchen…

chip clip

And finally, the very best part of our new house… the one who makes it feel like a home.

todd in cozy

As I type this, the little neighbor kiddos are scream-laughing while they bounce on their trampoline in their back yard. The dryer buzzer just went off (way too loud) and freaked me out a little bit and poor Oprah needs a drink of water here on my desk. The ice cream truck song is playing creepily from the street, as it has done most days this summer.

Last night, a dozen friends and their kiddos kicked off their shoes into a big pile in the foyer under that pretty light fixture. I still need to vacuum up the dry grass. The noise of our friendships filled my ears and the pile of shoes and dry grass filled my heart. We are enjoying our extraordinarily ordinary life in the suburbs (I know!) and I am feeling just right about all these little gifts we’ve been given in this space we’re now living in.  Looking forward to many more memories here.

A bit of editing

I woke up this morning, made my husband’s lunch, kissed him on the front doorstep and sent him off to work. I did a few small things around the house and made a to-do list for the day. I wasn’t feeling much of anything special until I read an article. An article about a Christian radio personality who has apparently been charged with sex crimes. While I was disgusted by the entire thing overall, and disappointed that yet another person who claims to align himself with the attitudes and actions of a follower of Jesus Christ has a secret life that in no way matches that, I was particularly irked at the way the article was written and by some of the comments that I deem to be quite ignorant.

First of all, the actual text of the article in question can be found here. The summary sounds a little something like this:

There’s a dude in northern Michigan by the name of Balyo. He happens to work as a radio personality for a Christian radio program. The article says he’s been charged because he “allegedly paid another person, who is a defendant in another child exploitation case, to arrange for sexual encounters with minor victims.”  

Keep in mind that the federal definition of human trafficking is this:

Under U.S. federal law, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking:

  1. Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age, (22 USC § 7102; 8 CFR § 214.11(a)).
  2. Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, (22 USC § 7102).

The article goes on to say that Balyo has been arrested “on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.”

Next, an “expert” weighs in on the matter. The article states:

As Cooley Law professor and human trafficking expert Chris Johnson explains it, Balyo is accused of being a customer. “I think the terminology would be a ‘john’ — that in itself is not going to be human trafficking,” Johnson said. “The person he went to in order to secure the child would be the one who would be guilty of human trafficking.”

And that’s one of the things that’s got me all salty this morning. This dude Balyo allegedly (I understand innocent until proven guilty) sought out another person, by the name of Moser, who was already being investigated under a state and federal sting operation. This guy Moser, according to this article, was a real piece of work. It states that “He ran a website offering paying customers sex with underage boys.” (by the way, there was no “allegedly” to that statement. It had already been established that he ran such a web site.)

So here’s the first guy, Balyo, paying the second guy, whom he knows to run a web site that offers sex with minors, yet this expert says that Balyo is just a “john” and that he wouldn’t be considered a human trafficker. Hmmm. The federal definition says that Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act,…in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”

Did this many Balyo not recruit an underage boy for sex? Does it matter that he used a mediator to make provision for him to obtain an underage boy for sex? If he had cut out the middle man and grabbed a kid off the street, we would call him a trafficker, but since he went about it the sophisticated way and paid a “professional” trafficker, we’re just gonna call him a “john” instead, right? What the heck!?

Is this man not the REASON there is sex trafficking? Balyo allegedly supplied the one thing this world needs to ensure that children are sexually exploited: the demand.

Which brings me to another point that has me all fired up this morning. This article continues to use language that is harmful in the fight against human trafficking.

The “expert” makes another statement: He apparently says “pimps with prostitutes who are underage are not uncommon.”

There is no such thing as a “prostitute who is underage”. There are only trafficking victims who are minors. According to the same federal definition above, a person who intends to sell a person under 18 is a trafficker, and that underage person is a victim of trafficking. Simple as that. There’s no such thing as an “underage prostitute”. Hear me?

The expert goes on to say that “Many times when you do have a brothel that’s raided, you do end up finding child victims, unfortunately, that are involved in the commercial sex trade…according to the Department of Justice, the average age a person enters prostitution in the United States is between the age of 11 and 13 years old, so there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children.”

“…there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children.”

This statement bothers me to no end. To me, simply saying that there are lots of people who apparently have this “sexual appetite” for children almost makes it sound as if that’s a normal thing. It sounds almost as nonchalant as saying there is quite a prevalence of people who have a craving for vanilla ice cream over chocolate. Totally normal, viable preference, right? No.

To me, semantics matter. BIG TIME. In a world where so many of us are trying to fight against human trafficking, the exploitation and sexualization of our youth, and the criminals who make all that happen, I think it’s high time we start paying more attention to the words we use when discussing the whole thing.

Stop allowing “experts” to use words and phrases such as child prostitute. It has been well established by now that we legally can’t define anyone in that way, and the fact that this person did so, no matter how credentialed he may be, disqualifies him as an “expert” on the matter in my eyes.

And let’s call things what they really are. Instead of saying stuff like “…there is quite a prevalence of people who have sexual appetites with children”  how about we think about our words and say what is really meant by that statement, like “there is quite a prevalence of people who regularly seek out opportunities to exploit children sexually.” That’s what we’re really saying there, isn’t it?  We have got to be more careful with the words we allow when speaking of this evil.

Whether or not this Balyo person will be found guilty remains to be seen. What evidence has been collected to that end, I do not know. But I do know that sadly, this is one of many people who have been accused of exploiting our children directly for their own sick purposes. In my opinion, anyone who participates in that process should be charged with human trafficking. Because the truth is, without the demand, there is no need for the supply. So a person who seeks out some other person person to assist him in exploiting a child is as guilty of trafficking as the person who sells the child for that purpose. Perhaps even more so, because the problem begins with the demand for such a thing. The problem begins with the demand. And as much as we fight against the problem of human trafficking, it will continue as long as the demand continues. It will continue as long as people are able to minimize the thing by talking in terms such as “appetites” and “child prostitutes.” It will continue as long as we don’t think our words really matter all that much.

live now.

A phone call telling us a friend had taken his own life. A message from another friend that his father had passed away, when he had just spoken to him that morning. A friend buried a parent after she had just lost her husband.  A family member with a back injury, and it looks like surgery is on the horizon. A car accident–luckily it didn’t result in any harm to either party. All of this just in the past month or two.

And again last night, a dear friend who awoke to find her daughter with blue lips and a lack of gaze in her eyes. Thankfully she has recovered, and already has that twinkle back in her eyes. Thank you, Jesus.

But that feeling. That empty feeling. My friend said it best… she couldn’t get the “what if” out of her mind.

This. All of THIS.

It reminds me that we only have one life. Every single moment of it is precious and important. We have to make the most of all of the moments that we get, whether we feel like they are spectacular or not.

We have to make a choice to enjoy and pursue and live in the moment…

and listen

and notice

and make a difference

and not sit this one out

and give of our gifts

and pray and serve

and make others understand that they are WORTH IT.

Worth our time, our attention, worth a place on our schedule. Worth space in our hearts. Worth our heartbeats themselves.

I am the first to admit, my calendar sometimes looks like a cage. All those black lines, squaring up and rounding out the minutes of my life… scribbled in and squeezed into and running and running together. Sometimes I look at my days and think “what have I done?” and not in the way of wanting to know what I have accomplished or checked off the to-do list.. but what have I done with my time that matters?? Actually matters? To me? To others? To eternity?

today is the best day

I don’t want to waste a second. I love so many people and I want them to know it. I care about many things and I want them to be evident. I have so little time and I want to use it. I want God to use me in this little span of time that I am borrowing. I want to live.

live now

this is how we do it

TEN Years. A whole decade. That really feels like something.

Seemed like a good time for reflection. We sat together and thought and talked, my man and I. What’s been our best? What are we looking forward to in our next ten?

It was super hard to narrow down one specific moment or event that we thought was our very best. We both agreed that our best thing wasn’t a thing at all. The favorite part for both of us has been that feeling we have that we’ve just always been. There’s kind of an air of timelessness to our thing, a bit hard to describe. Like we just got together and we’ve always been together all at once. Crazy and cool.

Do we have the perfect marriage? I would definitely say so.

As long as you define “perfect marriage” like this:

perfect marriage

We recounted the unfolding of the last ten years of not giving up on each other. Not when an emotional affair was confessed. Not when our personal sin junk was trying to take us down. Not when we were both working overtime to pay off over $100K.  Not when our families gave us zero support in any of our endeavors. Not when the whole pretty picture of a marriage and family started melting into something completely foreign. Not when our son was lying in ICU from a drug overdose. Never. Not ever. Not that we might not have thought about it, because sometimes it just seems a whole heck of a lot easier to give up. But we both decided to stick it out. Fighting back to back. In it together.

Sometimes people ask us how we do it. I guess just they’re asking how we do all this life together and still seem to enjoy each other so much.

I’d like to say it just kind of happens, but that’s just not true, friends.  It takes work. A lot of it. It’s a constant contest to out-love each other. To out-nice each other. To serve one another in love, when we feel like it and when we just plain don’t.

We talk a lot. About silly things, wondering things, deep things. We ask each other questions. We silently study each other, figuring out what the other loves and keeping that information tucked away to use in an onslaught of awesomeness at a later time. We try to fight fair when it happens. We spend lots of time together but also purposely spend time apart. We keep things hot. We have great friends who love us and whom we love greatly. We serve others together. Most of all, we love God together, however imperfectly.

This is how we do it. And this is the stuff we will keep doing for ten more years, then another ten, and hopefully ten more after that. Whatever we do, we will do it together, wrapped up in a cord made of three strands, not just two.

We will keep trying to out-love each other, and mess up a lot while we attempt it, of course. Here’s to our first ten years, and to every moment afterward.

rings

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” -Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

“Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.” -Song of Solomon 8:7

 

Sex trafficking and the Super Bowl?

Today, thousands of people will plant themselves on couches and barstools across the nation to watch two football teams compete for the most valuable prize in the NFL. I don’t know much about football and I don’t really have an interest in it, but tons of Americans love it and have a great time rooting for their teams, eating nachos, and commenting on brilliant advertising campaigns on this day every year. Regardless of how you feel about football or the hype surrounding the Super Bowl, you can’t help but hear about the game results, the commercials, and the intense preparation that surrounds whatever city hosts this phenomenon each year.

And nowadays, you probably can’t help but also hear something about sex trafficking when you hear stuff about the Super Bowl. Am I right? I would bet there’s almost no one who hasn’t heard at least something about a link between the Super Bowl and sex trafficking. Especially if you are on Facebook, you’ve likely seen articles posted and shared, and maybe you’ve even read a few yourself. If you have, you were likely flabbergasted by some of the stats presented, or maybe a little confused by some info that kind of seems to contradict other things you’ve heard about this problem.

It makes sense that people would be confused. I’ve seen articles just in the past week that have said the Super Bowl is the largest sex-trafficking event in the nation, while others say there’s absolutely no link whatsoever to an increase in sex trafficking because of the Super Bowl. There are lots of people arguing on both sides, both presenting evidence on both sides, and both sounding pretty convincing, especially if you are new to hearing about all of this.

I learned about sex trafficking about three years ago, which by federal law is: “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age,” (22 USC § 7102; 8 CFR § 214.11(a)). The most appalling thing to me was that it simply existed at all, but also that it happens here in the US in every single state, not just in some rare case in a remote country “over there” that I’ll never visit.

Now, let me come to my point about sex trafficking and the Super Bowl. There are a bunch of people out there right now, disputing the claims that big events such as the Super Bowl increase the demand for sex trafficking. Some articles are quoting that there have been no reported increases in the number of arrests during Super Bowl weekend in the various towns where the event was held. Some who are saying that there’s no proof, no hard statistics about how many people are really trafficked so we can’t say anything about it whatsoever. Some people are even saying that sex trafficking doesn’t really exist at all, but is just an idea made up by women who hate men and hate sex and want to make the rest of the world into a bunch of prudes.

Let me break down some very basic thoughts about sex trafficking and large events such as the Super Bowl.

1. Sex trafficking is most definitely real and happens every single day in every single state in our country, which is deemed the most free, powerful, and prosperous nation in the world. So right here in our backyards, young girls and boys, women and men, are being controlled by others through threats, drugs, violence, and a serious lack of safe options. These controllers are using their victims’ bodies as “merchandise” to sell over and over to people who are willing to pay for illicit sex. To a trafficker, this is nothing but a business. Their greed for money drives them to provide the “product” that is under demand… sex for sale.

2. The supply-demand scenario is the only thing that fuels any business, legal or illegal, anywhere in the world. There’s not really a big demand for parachute pants now that the 80’s have passed and MC Hammer’s songs are not topping the charts. I don’t see a lot of advertisements for parachute pants anymore. Get what I’m sayin?? Every business thrives on supply-demand logic. I saw news reports of pizza shops working feverishly to fold hundreds of extra boxes and quadrupling their batches of dough because they know that the demand for pizza will go up tremendously on Super Bowl Sunday. These are smart businesspeople. These folks know what they are doing. In the NY/NJ area where the Super Bowl is being held, I have no doubt that pizza shops, grocery and retail stores, and sports bars are doing the same thing… increasing their supply of merchandise to meet the inevitable demand that happens when thousands of out-of-towners descend upon their city on a specific weekend. I am pretty sure that people in NY/NJ already eat pizza and chips, and drink beer and soda. But on Super Bowl weekend, when everybody’s coming to YOUR town for the game, you’re going to stock up on the same things that people always purchase, because there will be more people purchasing them that weekend. I don’t have specific statistics to tell me this, it’s just logic and we’ve seen businesses do this over and over throughout the years. Sex traffickers do the same thing. They have a demand on every other day throughout the year, so when there’s a big event coming, they ship more “product” to where the demand will be, and that includes a city where the Super Bowl is being held. I don’t have a big list of proven statistics for that either. But I do know of several survivors of sex trafficking, many of whom personally attest to being taken to various cities around the country where big events were being held (everything from sporting events to doctors’ conventions to God-knows-what-because-half-the-time-they-never-knew-where-they-were-and-that’s-a-big-fat-red-flag-that-someone-is-being-trafficked)

3. Increased demand increases advertising. Ever notice that seasonal items enjoy a blitz of advertising at certain times of the year? Well of course. When we know that Christmas is coming up, we up the advertisements for stocking stuffers. When Halloween is coming down the pike, companies who produce costumes pay for advertising because they know the demand will be there. Business people aren’t stupid… they invest time and money in advertising when they know it will pay off the most. Did you know that advertisements for sex-for-sale (or whatever euphemism they might be disguised under) on web sites such as Backpage.com increase dramatically during the weeks leading up to big events, like the Arnold Classic and the Super Bowl? It’s already happened this week. I have seen it myself, looking online at ads in the NY/NJ area. Traffickers advertise on these sites all the time, but they take lots of extra time and effort to increase advertising tenfold during the weeks leading up to events like this. The supply and demand logic wins out for these people… they know their increased efforts are likely to pay off.

4. There’s a huge lack of “proven statistics” that show the real numbers of sex trafficking victims. You’re damn right there is. This sick business of sex trafficking is an underground endeavor. Our best estimates are probably sorely lacking. Big numbers get thrown around and sometimes that makes us paralyzed to the problem. But I will tell you this… The many stories I have heard from actual survivors who have been through this hell and lived to tell about it indicate that this is a bigger issue than we think it is. With all the awareness and police stings and campaigns that exist now, there are still many, many people trapped in sex trafficking that we have no idea about. Why? Because this is an organized crime. Do we have stats on every person who uses heroin or meth? No, because they do it in secret. The amount of arrests for illegal drug sales don’t in any way indicate how big (or small) the problem really is because those numbers only speak to the ones who were caught in the illegal activity. Duh. Same with sex trafficking. Our best guesses are only estimates based on what we know about this purposely underground crime. A lack of “proven statistics” shouldn’t make us dismiss this as not being a real problem, but should make us realize all the more that what we do know about sex trafficking only scratches the surface, and we need to do more to unearth this evil.

I have looked in the eyes of some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met who told of their experiences. Their true stories sound like horror films to us who have never known that kind of suffering. They tell of places they’ve been where it was not just them who were sold, but houses full of girls. They tell of men who frequent those houses asking for the youngest ones. They tell of being abused in the most horrific ways that we can’t even imagine. They tell of being purchased by well-known and “upstanding” members of communities. They tell of beatings they endured when they didn’t do what they were told. They tell of being left for dead on the side of the road or in a roadside ditch after a “john” had abused them. And they tell of being shuffled from city to city where big events were happening, because their traffickers knew there would be a demand. Their stories are all I need to be convinced that there is, in fact, a link between big events and an increase in sex trafficking. But the real problem doesn’t center around that. It centers around the fact that sex trafficking even exists at all, and that while there are people out there arguing over whether the stats are accurate, there are men, women, and children being abused and sold every single day right here in our city and in every state across the nation. I don’t need proven statistics to stay in this fight.

If there is even ONE person who this is happening to on Super Bowl weekend or any other weekend, I will fight for them, because no one should ever have to endure it.

moments, present and accounted for.

Two years ago today I was waking up in India. Probably at all the wrong time of day, as I was still getting used to that other-side-of-the-world time change. Even while rubbing my eyes, I could still see that moment. That face. That gratitude that seemed to make no sense to me. A frail little man, brown skin all wrinkled, bowing his head to me in thanks, clutching that little fuzzy blanket against his face even though it had teddy bears printed all over it.

ImageA small fleece blanket, purchased in bulk. Various colors, prints, patterns, handed to beautiful human beings who were made in the image of God. Men, women, and children, most whose bodies were in various stages of leprosy. And it was my turn, and it was a flurry of activity. I tried to soak it in, see every face, look in every pair of eyes, whether they were blind or not. But time and nerves and culture don’t always allow everyone’s eyes to meet, and I was feeling as if I’d never really grasp the depth of this moment. Like I was a bit outside of it, not totally present.

Awake the next day, I tried to get my mind back into that moment. I was trying to recall all the faces and colors, the exact moment of that exchange.That moment the man pressed that blanket to his face in pure, complete gratitude. The whole experience floods my mind, even today. Apparently I was there after all.

But I wondered what that moment meant to that man, exactly. Was his demeanor a typical expression of gratitude, or was he, like me, trying desperately to cut through languages and culture and awkward interactions to show just how life-changing that moment was as well? Was he awake somewhere, trying to stay in that moment like I was?

I don’t know and I guess I never will. What I thought I knew for sure was that there’s no way that moment could ever be topped. That was the pinnacle of all New Year’s Eves, from now until eternity. And no other New Year’s Eve moment–or perhaps any moment–would ever be that good.

But now, I’m not so sure I was right about that.

I’m realizing that it’s not the best or biggest moment that really counts. It’s ALL of the moments. We have to make all of our moments count, because every one of them contains heartbeats and breaths and smiles and memories that we will never be able to replicate exactly. Never ever. So we have to make them count, not by trying to balloon all of them into enormous moments, but by being present in every one of them big or small. By noticing things that help us savor them.

Fast forwarding to last night, New Year’s Eve again. This time, I was in my own small-town kitchen. I made pepper jack pasta from scratch and broccoli from the freezer. I laughed with my husband, son, and daughter-in-law. We watched several episodes of Breaking Bad. We said “Happy New Year!” at 12:00 and headed off to bed about an hour later. Hardly momentous or earth-shattering. Hardly that memorable moment in India two years ago, right?

But last night, in my un-exciting New Year’s Eve, I felt really present in all the moments of the evening. I noticed a lot. My husband is such a polite eater. He folds his napkin meticulously after each use. The sauce was incredibly smooth and spicy, just the way we all like it. My daughter-in-law swings her hair to the side a lot like I did when mine was as long as hers. Her nose wrinkles up a little when she laughs at something, which I love. My son gives a heavy sigh when something is bothering him and he wants to talk about it but wants you to ask him what’s wrong. And he’s becoming more polite every day, with lots of thank-yous and pleases, and carefully handing the butter around the table, a lot like his amazing father. I noticed, noticed, noticed, until my senses were full and so was that tank that holds all my joy, wherever that lives.

No fireworks, no watching the ball drop. No noisemakers or parties. No incredible travels or culture shock or big things. Nothing that would make anyone say that an incredible experience had occurred. But I was there for every single moment, and they counted.

And this year, I’ll be noticing and counting.

Why Doma International?

Last week, doma International finished up a 10-day fundraising campaign. In light of that, I thought I would take a moment to talk about why I choose to support doma specifically. There are a ton of great organizations that fight to end human trafficking in all its hideous forms, even quite a few based here in my hometown like doma is. So why is it that I focus my efforts on giving my time, money, and talent toward the work they are doing?

To me, doma International is the total package in the nonprofit world when it comes to fighting human trafficking, because they understand that the problem begins long before a woman ends up in a courtroom with a soliciting charge slapped onto her record. Its about much more than that.

It’s about a journey.

Their primary connection in the US is to support the ladies who are part of the CATCH program, a special docket court here in Columbus that helps formerly prostituted women regain their lives through a 2-year rehabilitation and training program. Instead of simply incarcerating women who have been prostituted (and thereby ignoring the systemic problems that brought them there in the first place) CATCH focuses on teaching skills for restoring their life and ways to overcome the awful circumstances they’ve endured, so they can become the women they were meant to be.

Doma has come alongside these women from the first moment they enter the CATCH program. Their staff and volunteers step with them through this journey from those first nights when they are waiting in jail, just daring to hope that their lives could change, all the way through to independence when these women find a job, get their own apartment, and regain custody of their children. Doma helps take them from victim to survivor; from being the lost and brushed-off people on the fringe of our society to becoming the beautiful, strong women…daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends…they were created to be.

The staff and volunteers at doma understand that it’s not just about rescuing one woman from a terrible life, although that in itself is a good thing. But its more about the layers and layers of change that are necessary to revamp the systems that keep children from becoming vulnerable to traffickers, then growing up and repeating cycles of trauma. Doma is about changing a family tree, a city, and the entire world— Which can all start by helping one woman understand her true worth and her strength.

If all that is a bit too fluffy-sounding for you, let me share this: For the past couple of weeks, I’ve visited CATCH court. I’ve sat there listening, with pen in hand, recording things that the ladies have said about themselves and about the program. Here are some snapshots:

I don’t know where I’d be without the people in this courtroom.

It changed the way I carried myself and how I think about myself.

I’ve learned to love myself again.

I’m able to be there for my family, and I wasn’t able to before.

I feel like I am somebody, not just some woman on the street. I feel like a real mother.

I wasn’t judged.

I like myself again.

I am feeling blessed….grateful….determined…hopeful….like I have peace….proud….comfortable in my own skin.

I thank God for this program.

The people in this room have moved mountains for me.

I’m stickin’ and stayin’.

I have serenity.

I’m taking my GED test today.

I got to spend my son’s birthday with him this year. These are moments I never thought I’d get to have.

Grace is all over us.

It feels good actually doing something and being respected.

Nothing I’ve ever done in my life is like being here.

I may not have seen God himself, but I’ve seen his work. It’s all around us, in all of us.

I want to do something different. I need help. I can’t do it on my own.

I am capable. I’m going to do this.

I’ve come so far.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

These beautiful statements are concrete evidence of new life. They wouldn’t be possible without doma supporting the CATCH program, and they couldn’t do their work without generous people supporting them with time and resources. They rely mostly on donations and the occasional grant. They really make a little go a long way.

My family chooses to support doma because they take the full journey with these women. I recall one survivor saying that when she first met the staff at doma, they told her they were going to come along side her and love her until she could love herself. And that’s exactly what they did. Just a few years later, that same survivor is now a thriving, confident woman who mentors other ladies and speaks publicly about her journey in order to inspire others to action.

Isn’t that a journey you’d be proud to be a part of?

Doma’s recent fundraising campaign just ended. But the love doesn’t have to. Could we give up that Starbucks coffee, one round at the golf course, or our Friday night pizza in order to donate to restoring lives right here in our back yard? It is more than worth it!

Donate anytime to doma International! Show the love. Fund some freedom!

(Oh, and I didn’t even mention that doma operates a food cart and catering business to give these lovely survivors hands-on job training, or the incredible work they do overseas in Ethiopia and Russia! Take some time to browse their site and learn more about ALL of the amazing things they do to empower women and embrace children here and around the world!)

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