Dear Friends, It’s been a long while since I’ve written, and I hope that this post will explain the reasons for my quiet. I actually wrote this back in October, only to have my blog crash for two months and then more life get in the way of posting it until now.  (Funny how the deeply good things are the ones that come under the most attack, yes?) I’ll be honest, the following is a vulnerable (and long) post, but I deeply appreciate you continuing on this journey with me and our family. 

Merry Christmas to each of you, Laura 

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My husband Matt sat across from a corporate consultant a two years ago. The suit talked about measurables and statistics and growth curves, based on research and a resume chock-full of big names. We’d been knee deep in launching The Exodus Road for the past year and were after some advice about best next steps. We understood that any sustainable ministry had a business side, too. Kids can’t get rescued on good intentions alone.

“Mach eight,” he said with conviction. “You gotta pull up hard and go mach eight. Mach 10 will (literally) kill you, but anything less than aggressive, aggressive growth, and you’ll stall, get stagnant and eventually die out. The majority of nonprofits fail in the first three years, anyway, and organizations that linger under a million in revenue typically won’t go the distance. You have to break that ceiling. And you have to do it soon, like yesterday.

And, in wisdom or stupidity, we took the suit’s advice that day. We blasted mach eight for the next year and a half. God had written this powerful story in our lives about Light and darkness, and we wanted to do justice by it. We knew that victims of trafficking didn’t need another flash-in-the-pan; they needed a bridge towards freedom that could bear significant weight over the long haul. And, so, we pulled the throttle back hard, the force of the climb quickly gluing us to the back of our lives.

Wrapping up an intense several years overseas, we began logging time in airplanes and on stages, from our new-again home base in Colorado. The house stayed messy and fast-food showed up on the table on a regular basis. Our capacity for anything beyond two full-time jobs in this upstart nonprofit and three kids in school suddenly shrunk to survival-only mode. Community, exercise, and soul care, were quickly laid on the altar of fighting slavery. Carpal Tunnel crept into my wrists from time spent frantically writing at a computer, and date nights quickly got booted out of the schedule. Ideals of boundaries crumbled in the face of 5 am texts about 12 year old’s in private brothels. (How could they not?)

We didn’t just do The Exodus Road; we became it. And our mach eight climb subtlety morphed into a black hole that consumed most of the things that kept us personally soul-alive.

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Mid-climb and after two years spent stateside developing and fundraising, an opportunity arose that would require another international move from Colorado back to SE Asia. Oddly enough, we were open to it. We thought it would be hugely beneficial for me to connect with the work again, we wanted to minimize Matt’s travel time away from the family, and honestly, we felt like the program side of the organization needed to be invested in. We kicked it up to mach nine and, though several clicks past burnout already, operated under the assumption that when we got to Asia, things would calm down. We’d be able to breathe deep, re-gather ourselves, connect with the ethos of where everything started in the first place.

We gutted out the round-the-world-move in eight. weeks and landed on foreign soil mid-May.

And then it really hit the fan.

We walked into political and partnership scenarios we weren’t prepared to navigate on day three. The country was in a military coup. Our foundation required legal acrobats we hadn’t planned. It felt like one crisis, one fire, after another. If we were breaking before, it was shreds of grace scotch-taping us together now.

We hosted people on vision trips in the midst of setting up home utilities in a foreign country and trying to give our new rental house, with very-white tile floors and even-whiter concrete walls, a semblance of home for our hearts. Matt traveled weekly to the capital city fulfilling a role there with a partner organization (which was helping pay for international schooling for our kids), navigating cases and government relationships, wearing his own suit and carrying mountains of stress like The World’s Strongest Man. We juggled maintaining our roles back in the States online and via skype, while trying to pass the baton effectively to our new VP of Operations in Colorado, who started work 20 days after we moved to Asia. We tried to care for new volunteers on the ground while also investing in our own children’s hearts in the midst of another foundation-shaking transition for them.

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And then the real blow. Our friends, who had moved out to Asia within a week of us from the same town in Colorado, lost their six-year-old daughter, a sweet friend of my Ava’s, to a virus within three months of landing overseas. And suddenly, I found myself sitting beside a mother, a woman I’d grown to admire, as she literally ushered her sweet girl into the arms of Jesus. It was absolutely wrecking on every level imaginable.

We stumbled up from that hellish summer, desperately hopeful for the start of school, despite the understandable emotional kid-hand-wringing that accompanied it. And we prayed and watched them walk onto the campus– hopeful for consistent schedules, fresh community, and a bit of a breather.

False.

Two days later, Matt was full-on interrogated at immigration (which was just as scary and discouraging as it sounds), and our organization here was called into a financial audit with the government. Then we had a motorbike accident where we thought I’d lost the top section of my toe and landed in a hospital. After that, we had to evict our renters from one of our rental houses back in Colorado, which gave our finances and faith-in-human-decency another blow. All the while, Matt was continuing to fly down to the capital city to  on a near-weekly basis, and I was trying to navigate communications and fundraising projects, kids that were transitioning to a new school, and figuring out where to buy cheese and how to pay our cell phone bills (which, surprisingly, you do at the local 7-11 or ATM).

But we kept plowing through, throttle back. “Victims of trafficking can’t afford for us to quit,” we told ourselves (and do still believe); the buck-stops-here is a motivator unlike any other. So we hired and trained national staff. We got our legal issues in Asia ironed out through a thousand signatures and mounds of paperwork. We passed the financial audit, while we broke that million-dollar-in-assets-glass-ceiling (oh, wouldn’t the suit be proud).

At this point, it was the Fall now, and we’d survived more turmoil and climbed more false summits than we had time to process. “If we can make it to October school break,” we thought, “If we can just hold it together till then, we’ll go to some resort somewhere. We’ll refresh, we’ll fight for our hearts, we’ll try to reconnect as a couple and family.” We knew we were horribly out of balance and dangerously now beyond burnout, but that fall break was a finish line. We talked about it for weeks. Just. Hold. On.

Then three days before our scheduled vacation, we were blindsided with a situation that was fairly brutal for us —  both personally and professionally. We ended up spending that desperately-sought-down-time confused and wounded, processing-the-hell-out-of-things, and questioning just about everything from the why to the who to the how. 

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It’s November now, and Matt left last week for a two-week trip back to the States. It’s my first solo-parenting gig on this side of the world, and he encouraged me to take a week off— those vacation days I seldom take keep accruing.

Sometimes the hardest step is a backwards one. But, I’ve forced myself to take a few, anyway. I’ve bought flowers and gone shopping with friends. I’ve exercised and read a book, listened to podcasts and worship music. And I’ve started to write again.

And I feel like I’m finding myself, waking up, remembering. I promise I’ll share more in weeks to come– our mistakes (of which there were many), what I’ve learned along the way, the ways Kingdom is still showing up. My blog will wake up, too. We’ve both been dormant for far too long. I’ve been tenderly reminded that this gift God’s given me of writing, it’s something I get to do with Him. And I’ve missed Him something fierce lately.

I guess what the suit failed to mention over lunch that day in the cafe was the price to be paid for a mach eight climb– a “damaging insistence on forward thrust.” And I guess what I failed to recognize is how quickly, in the pursuit of justice and God-following, I paid it.

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“Help. We can be freed from a damaging insistence on forward thrust, from a commitment to running wildly down a convenient path that might actually be taking us deeper into the dark forest. Praying “Help” means that we ask that Something give us the courage to stop in our tracks, right were we are and turn our fixation away from the Gordian knot of our problems . . . . You think it means you have lost. But in surrender you have won.” – Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow

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I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks about the pieces we’re picking up and the ways we’re walking forward; the lessons of Christ I’m learning and the dangers of, can I say, too much “sacrifice.” In the meantime, are you struggling with burnout? How do you keep your ministry/work and soul-life in balance? 

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Bride and Divorce

by Laura on January 28, 2014

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If the Church is really the Bride, I’ll admit I’ve wanted a divorce for a few years now. 

She isn’t who I thought she was 20 years ago when I said, “I do.”  She hasn’t been kind, either –to the people outside of her club, to those who question or doubt, to me.

And, so, I’ve essentially lived in an off-again-on-again state of separation from this dysfunctional being that is the American Church for a solid two years now. She tells me I don’t look or act or think or believe rightly. She sells me a promise of community, and then sits me in a pew facing forward. She takes my money, but hides the Jesus I adore. And every time I muster the hope to try again, she disappoints. So like a scorned spouse, I’ve walked away from her power, her manipulation, her legalism. Her abuse.

But here’s the thing about the disgruntled and hurt partner whom I’ve become, sitting outside with arms crossed and denying the inherent good mixed with the ugly, I haven’t found life or hope or joy in that space either. I thought I’d divorce and walk away completely to find nobility and freedom, but instead what I’m finding is cynicism, bitterness and a tendency to cast the stones right back.

But here’s the thing– the person this potential divorce is hurting the most is  . . . me. 

Disbelief in the Bride’s redemption is leaving me lonely, prideful and self-righteous. Cynicism of her role to play in my own life and in bringing light to the world has left me with my back turned in the counselor’s chair–closed, hardened. Done.

And try as I might to excuse it, this posture doesn’t remind me of Jesus, either. I don’t get to love the world and hate the Bride. I don’t get to cast unconditional grace on other lovers but deny it to my own family. 

Because Jesus had this wild plan for the evolving beauty of His church, and he wants me part of it. And I can’t claim to follow him if I divorce the one he’s redeeming for Himself– not the institution or the doctrine, the method or the damage– but the idea of her, the vision of her. 

Following Christ might not mean living under the same old roof, the same old system with the Bride; perhaps periods of separation can be redemptive.

It does mean, however, leaving the lawyer’s office with the signature line intentionally left blank.

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“There is a song for my family, Outside the walls of Sunday Morning from some within.

This is a song to confess our sins, Lay it all out, and try to begin again.

To hope again. 

Please forgive our ignorance, In looking down on you, 

Please forgive our selfishness, For hiding in our pews while the world bleeds.

While the world needs us to be what we should be.

This is a song for my family who, Just can’t believe in the Jesus that you’ve seen on Sunday morning.

This is a song for the cynical saints, The burned out and hopeless.

The ones that we’ve cast away, I feel your pain.

Please forgive the wastefulness of all that we could be
But don’t forget, there’s more than this
Her beauty still exists
His bride is still alive

His bride is still alive.”

- Gungor, Song for My Family

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On an unrelated note, this post gave me a new sympathy for our heterosexual brothers who struggle with the imagery of Christ as the Groom. I get it now, guys, I get it.

Also, an earlier, unedited version of this accidentally got into my RSS feed yesterday- sorry about that. Ignore that one, and thanks for your internet-grace. 

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Is the Purpose of Missions KINGDOM or GOSPEL?

by Laura on January 21, 2014

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“It reminded me of other conversations we’ve had with many in the church-world who’ve said to us essentially, “Why save them from an earthly hell if you can’t save them from an eternal one?”

And I’ll be brutally honest, that type of thinking hurts. It hurts that Christians would so quickly write off justice if there’s no promise of the Romans Road. It hurts us personally, as we are bleeding out for this mission, but it mostly hurts for the girl behind the locked doors–the one who desperately needs brave, compassionate people to rise up on her behalf,regardless of her spiritual choices, past, present or future.

And I get that in missions there are church planters and evangelists and gospel-in-word-givers. And I’m not saying that missions can’t be that, but can’t it also be ushering in the Kingdom?”  

Please read the full post today, and the ensuing conversation, over at A Life Overseas.

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Elementary school was a dream for me until the second grade.

In the second grade, a new girl named Wendy moved to town. She was cute with brown curly hair and she quickly set her sights on my best friend, Sarah.

What ensued over the next 259 days of the school year was not so good for little blonde-haired, love-the-world Laura Leigh (yes, I grew up in the South).

Wendy demanded that Sarah choose between the new and the old best friend. It was a declaration made on the playground, a line in the sand,  beside the literal sandbox– Sarah could not be friends with the both of us.  There were tears by the swings that day and then later party invitations without my name on them. Eventually, Wendy, in the logical wisdom of a seven year old, came up with a plan of altruistic compromise–Sarah could be best friends with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays but would ignore Wendy on those days. However, the alternating days of the week– Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays--I was the one by herself on the playground while Sarah and Wendy giggled and shared secrets.

I guess you could say I learned at a young age that jealously causes wreckage, that competition divides, and that the idea of “not enough” leaves everyone feeling the burden of scarcity.

Fast forward 25 years, and I find myself discouragingly in turf wars again–this time the landscape isn’t the playground, it’s the nonprofit sector.

We began working in the charity world about two years ago, and the longer we’re in it, the more cynicism we have to fight. We’ve had prominent leaders ignore or belittle us in conversation– we, the new kids on the nonprofit block. We’ve seen speakers position themselves and employees defend themselves, seen the ineffective groups market excellently while the real heroes go unsung. And we’ve watched with sadness as turf wars ensue– over donors or ideas or Facebook likes or that next dollar. We’ve seen people hold things tightly to their chests– methods or research or contacts.

You’d think we were in competition or something; I guess it’s a competition to out-good the next guy. 

Honestly, it’s like second grade all over again. We see and battle with a mentality of scarcity that drives ownership instead of open source, mine instead of ours, self-importance over the applause of the greater good. 

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We have a question that I’ve written before on the whiteboard at our home office and it is simply this, “What would a victim of trafficking want us to do?”

It’s funny how easy it is to forget that simple focus when you are launching and building and raising funds, and then raising some more funds, and then some more. But it’s a question that has to remain central to our thinking at The Exodus Road, and its the type of question that has to remain in focus for any nonprofit attempting to bring light into the world in a particular sphere.

Is it best for a girl trapped in sex slavery for us to share that trusted government contact with another field partner? Yes. Then we should do that.

Is it best for trafficked victims for the Western donor to understand the truth about certain organizations? Yes. Then we should tell them.

Would a sex slave care who rescues them or who gets the credit? No. Then we shouldn’t either.

The focal point must be the people we are serving– those girls behind the locked doors for us at Exodus Road right now. And the moment we start caring more about our brand, our fame, or our job security, is the moment we begin throwing other people and organizations under the bus in an attempt to position ourselves on top. It’s the moment we become like Wendy– competing for attention, marking territories, dividing friends.

And this is a mentality we all must fight tenaciously–both as leaders in the nonprofit sector and as donors or advocates for causes or faith-communities.

There is no scarcity of evil to fight in the world, but there’s also no scarcity of resources or people or passion to bring good, either. 

It’s an awfully big sandbox we find ourselves in. And there are a million different ways to play nicely in it. 

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*The second photo is evidence that my own children do not play nicely oftentimes on trips to the grocery store.  But, hey, their excuse is that they are literal children.

 

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The Manger Wasn’t Instagrammable

by Laura on December 19, 2013

The pressure to have the perfect Christmas looms large this time of year. I would assume, for most of us. We want to deliver the pumpkin bread tied in Martha Stewart bows and we want the kids to have matching socks (note the photo below)– at least for the Christmas concert. We want the deep conversation around the table and the chestnuts on the open fire. We want Normal Rockwell. Or the magic of Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB gun. Or, at least, a decent family picture, forcryingoutloud. 

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And us? We’re in the midst of a kitchen renovation. At Christmas. Not the brightest timing-plan, I’ll admit. And literally, all the stuff in our cabinets in strewn all over the living room. The pots and pans are on the floor in front of the couch, which is piled high with three loads of laundry. The utensil drawer is near the tree, like the unwrapped present even worse than socks and underwear. The countertops are gone. And so is the sink until tomorrow. It’s a disaster. And the chaos doesn’t stop there.

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The Christmas parties at school are in the morning, and the best I could muster tonight was buying cheap cartons of orange juice that I’ll send in as penance to the room moms who planned the event and asked for  help two weeks ago. I tried to get the kids to lay out their outfits for the Christmas sing-a-long tomorrow, but my youngest is actually demanding to wear two dresses–the one I chose literally underneath the one she wants. It’s her version of compromise, my version of embarrassment. “It’s my body, and I can wear what I want,” she declared. I didn’t push it. I don’t really care that much what she wears– as long as I can get those matching socks on her in the rush of getting the three out the door by 7:30.

Which tomorrow will be 7:20, since today one of the precious teachers let me know that we had already exceeded our tardy limit for the entire year. 

And my in-laws are coming on Sunday and will be staying for the week in my daughter’s room– which has never been fully moved into, even though we’ve now been in the house for about a month now. I hyperventilate a little each time I walk through the door, honestly. Boxes and clothes and shoes and posters and cups and discarded press-on nails.

I looked around tonight and it’s fairly obvious–there’s nothing here I’d want to instagram:

Not my Christmas decorations– the cat has clawed all the lower ornaments off the fake tree, leaving us with an oddly-crowded upper half of greenery. We still can’t get the stupid light timer to work on the outside decorations, so the icicle lights come on 5:45 and then go off automatically about 17 minutes later.

Not my kids– what with the two-dresses and the tardies and the spelling tests tomorrow that we forgot to study for again.

Not my gift-giving–Starbucks cards are all I can manage for the teachers, and the neighbors might only get from us the joy of our Christmas lights for 17 minutes nightly.

And definitely not my house– there are literally piles. everywhere.

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But  Glenn Packiam said something this last week at church that struck me. He said, “The manger wasn’t instagrammable, you know.”

He was reminding us of the unexpected, quiet joys of the season and the importance of watching for them. He was talking about how the holiest of nights didn’t happen in the Norman Rockwell picture, how when Joy to the World burst in, the scene might not have trended on twitter.

And, so, yes–this Christmas I’m not going to have my act together. My kid will be in all the class pictures with two dresses, and the likelihood of completing our kitchen project and then cleaning up after it, before our family arrives is slim. I probably won’t cook anything worthy of pinterest, and my wrapping job will consist of sticking things in Christmas bags. We might celebrate Christmas morning in some mess. Or a lot of mess.

But maybe that’s really okay. Perhaps, it’s not the setting but my attention to the things which matter that counts. Maybe if I cultivate the wonder of Mary and the awe of the shepherds, maybe I’ll see Joy in the flesh this year.

Even in this house, amid these imperfections.

Some gifts don’t need a filter to be just right, after all. 

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Interested in last year’s Christmas post where we threw the tree out into the yard and left it? Read here

 

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Beware the One-Dimensional Life

November 30, 2013
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Beware of the One-Dimensional Life. The seasons when your hours and conversations and energies become hostage to one dictator– however kind, noble or “right” he may be. The gravity of a one-dimensional life is a strong one. It plays balanced for a while, but eventually pulls every conversation into a vortex about itself.  Hopelessly one-sided, […]

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The Mafia and Falling Asleep Anyway

October 9, 2013
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Perhaps I’m an adrenaline junkie. 15 months ago, my husband texted me, “I’m working a case involving the mafia.” And I can remember the holy ground that was my bedroom when I read that sentence on my computer screen; it was one of those late nights, after kids were in bed,  just me and Him. […]

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In Which My Book Is Dirt-Cheap, and I Thank You

October 1, 2013
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They always said writing a book was like birthing a baby, and I was all eye-rolling-know-it-all: “It can’t be that bad. I mean, really. I’ve never seen anyone sweaty and screaming over a manuscript.” I remember with our first (real, actual, human, non-figurative) baby, I had much the same attitude. “I’m going all-natural. No big […]

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How An Atheist Is Teaching Me To Live Like Jesus

June 25, 2013
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When we first put toes into the water of the counter-trafficking community in SE Asia, we expected the pool to be a crowed one. We’d read the stories from the internet, we’d seen the documentaries and we assumed that other people had this fight covered– especially as it related to the process of helping find […]

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“Maybe We Should Just Give Up.” Or, Not.

June 17, 2013

I feel all-apologies on this space of late. Let’s be honest, ever since we moved back to the United States my personal blogging platform has taken a hit. And while I do think it will pick back up eventually, for now, I am finding a new stride in pouring my words and social media nearly-ninja-skillz  […]

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Redefining Stupid

May 19, 2013

This past week he told stories from his last trip overseas–around a table and over sandwiches– that still-fresh ink crawling out from under his shirt sleeve. I’d heard the story several times before, but there was something about this telling that felt different, scarier to me. Maybe it was the natural responses from our friends. […]

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