The Lioness and the Finger

by Laura on March 29, 2016


I took my daughter to the zoo the other day. We fed giant fish, strained to see the sleeping bears in the corner of their habitats, schemed about getting our own baby pet monkey. This particular zoo sometimes has shows with both lions and tigers mostly in the evenings for the tourists, but in the day, these magnificent animals are in these concrete holding areas, with glass panels for visitors to watch.

Now, I’ve never been much of a zoo person and battle the ethics of the whole enterprise, anyway, but these small, sterile holding cells for trained lions and tigers took my disdain to a whole new level. One fake tree. An old tire. A concrete bench. A flat landscape mural. A space smaller than my home office. And these creatures are gorgeous and powerful and awe-inspiring and . . . so sad and bored looking. They were a long way from an African savannah, even the fake ones U.S. zoos create for them.

And we were hustling our way through the corridor when I saw something that made us both stop.  Two full-sized lionesses were sitting together in a corner of one of the glassed-in observation rooms, when a single young woman walks undramatically into the room in flip flops. We thought maybe she had food, maybe she was going to do some training exercises, perhaps she was a vet and going to check them.

And I kid you not, she walked into that cell and stared those two lions right in the face and held up her finger and pointed at them once. It was a stern movement, like the ones I might give my kids if they’re fighting in the back row of a church service. And then she casually leaned back on a nearby stump, and started playing her smartphone. She completely ignored the two beasts less than three feet away, and started scrolling through Facebook.


And those lions? Those lions stayed right where they were. They watched her, but they didn’t make any movement towards the trainer or towards each other. And my daughter and I couldn’t believe it. These creatures had the numbers and the natural power to literally tear the woman apart, but they just blinked at her warily, yawned, stretched. These magnificent Queens of the Jungle were pacified by nothing more than a raised finger.

A raised finger. . .  and a shared history of power and control that got the three of them there in a room of concrete and glass.

And five hours later, in front of a crowd who will pay good money for a show, these same two lions will jump through hoops for bites of formerly frozen steak. The cell phone will be gone, and the trainer will have a wand that glitters perhaps in her hand instead. And the tourists will assume the animals are happy because they will be brushed, maybe even in a costume or two.

It will all be a lie, but it will be a lucrative one. And the crowd will buy it because they are sold it. The lions aren’t in chains, after all.



And that experience, these pictures, drip with meaning of a million lessons, a thousand analogies. Lessons about lies and truth, power and control, giving up the inherent power within us. But as I sat there watching those lions that day with my daughter, I couldn’t help but think of the complexity of identifying trafficking victims — especially in the sex industry, and especially among a thriving red light district of thousands. When I first started out in this work and did my initial google searches on the issue, when I first heard the term “modern slavery,” I assumed the mechanisms of exploitation were more black-and-white, cut-and-dry. People tied to beds, slave blocks and live auctions, tears of relief during rescue missions.  It didn’t take long to dispell all of those myths.

Because the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery is a complicated and layered one. The forces of exploitation can look a lot more subtle, though no less powerful, than a physical handcuff. It’s a web of lies and deceit, threats and money. It is the strong preying on the vulnerable, the breaking of a spirit, under the guise of make up and iPhones and loud dance music. It’s a field where people (even governments and law enforcement) don’t maintain the same definitions of a “victim,” where adult prostitution as a chosen profession often clouds the issue, and where theories and opinions, drama and darkness run rampant.

As far as social justice issues go, human trafficking is a complicated field of land mines.

But the complications of stories don’t negate the necessity of the telling of them. The threat of not having all the answers by no means erases the importance of stepping into the arena to begin with to try learning some of them. If there’s anything I’ve realized over the last several years, it’s that things are not typically what they seem– be it lions in arenas or girls on stages.

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I’ll be hosting later this month a small group of diverse, intentional, courageous women here in Asia that will be doing just that– stepping into the arena with us and discerning the often ugly truth behind the shiny veneer. They’ll be traveling with our teams, asking hard questions, wrestling with the partial solutions, and unpacking the complicated web of exploitation that make human trafficking such a lucrative and thriving global business. I’d love you to follow along. We’ll be sharing lots of social media and video content throughout and following the trip, in an effort to really give others an honest, engaging picture of the work here on the front lines. You can check out the landing page here, or follow us, if you haven’t already on social media (@TheExodusRoad).

And when you see the content that emerges over the next few weeks, when you are tempted to assume that all men and women in red light districts enjoy working there and have free choice to do so because they are smiling in the pictures, do me a favor and remember the lionesses here at the zoo, would you? Remember that sometimes control doesn’t have to involve visual chains and that important stories, even the complicated and confusing ones, are worth trying our very best to tell, too.



Put Your Face In It

by Laura on January 20, 2016

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One of the greatest hockey goalies of all time stopped shots by sticking his bare face in the line of fire.

I was listening to an episode of This American Life after dropping off Matt at the airport last night. They talked about the famous Canadian Hockey goalie, Terry Sawchuck, who remains one of the most impressive goalies to have skated the ice to date. He played in the 50’s before goalies wore protective face masks (yes, you read that correctly, as if Hockey wasn’t dangerous enough). To that point in the sport, goalies would stand more upright, with their heads above the rim of the goal, to protect their heads. But not Sawchuck. He was one of the first goalies to bend over at the waist, crouch down lower to the ice. He wanted to stop goals, so he put his face directly in the path of a flying puck shot by an opposing 250 pounds of muscle.

And it worked. He landed in the Hall of Fame and held the record for the most shut-outs (115!) for years. He literally changed the way hockey goalies played forever. The best of the best of the best dreaded playing against Sawchuck.

But it cost him. Dearly. 600 facial stitches in his career, a mug shot that looked a bit like Frankenstein. Major lower back injuries. Surgeries. My stomach started hurting listening to the stories and I quick-clicked off the google images of him.

And it got me thinking on that drive home — about sacrifice and what it takes sometimes to do hard, deeply good things. So often in my life, I want the gain without the pain. I want to be a good mom with thriving kids, but I don’t want to practice love when I’m hustling them out the door and I slept late and someone can’t find socks. I want to be a strong leader, but I don’t want to give up everyone liking me. I want to read more, but I would rather watch copious amounts of Netflix. Essentially, I desire to know things and be things personally, but would prefer for those things be handed to me for free, on a silver platter, that I don’t have to get up off the couch or sacrifice anything to get.

I’d like to stop the puck *and* save my face, please.

And I expect this of others, too. I want heroes to look up to, but I don’t want to admit that the journey it took to get them there may have left some scars that while perhaps faded, still mar the appearance, behavior or outlook on life. I want to read the epic stories but want to skip the chapters with the gruesome details. I want my husband to lead courageously, but I’d rather not deal with the fallout of the pressure and the journey when it affects our social lives or kid’s futures or grocery store run on a Tuesday.

But sometimes, in the matches that really matter, whether they feel big or small, maybe you don’t get to have both. Perhaps there are some goals you can manage to stop with the bottom of your skate or your heavily padded forearm. But sometimes, sometimes the next right thing requires bent knees and a head that dips below the top of the goal.


On Fear (and the Refugee)

by Laura on December 30, 2015

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FEAR has run rampant on my Facebook feed over the last few weeks.  Fear about what could be, what has been. It’s awful. The bombings, the police brutality, the atrocities of war– these things we humans do to each other.

And while I won’t claim expertise on politics or refugees or global crisis, I reckon I can comment on what I’ve personally learned — especially over the course of the last 6 years, living overseas with small children, sending my husband into seedy places run by mafia systems, entering some amount of danger on behalf of the vulnerable.

Perhaps most obviously, I’ve learned that safety is an illusion at best. We had a bomb here in Asia several months ago and there are strange viruses and the trafficking of humans across borders, but my brothers and sisters on “safe” American soil have had school shootings and race-riots and brutal murders that make my stomach turn. Truly, is anywhere really safe? The world we live in is an increasingly violent, dangerous one. This is just true. While wisdom is important and mitigating risk just plain smart (obviously), the idea of physical safety is really, truly, at its very best, an illusion.

But at its worst? At worst the idea of safety and comfort is an excuse not to enter into the darkness on behalf of another human being. At it’s worst, safety is a false god we bow to and sacrifice on its altar love and kindness and generosity. At it’s worst, safety keeps us inside: our pretty church walls, the groups we understand or which like us back, the box we’ve made for God to squeeze in.

Is risking personal safety on behalf of another scary as hell? Absolutely it is. Matt’s been in situations that still give him nightmares. I’ve gotten texts from him that spike my heart rate and start me envisioning early widowhood. We have contingency plans for getting the family out of the country, if we need to, for heaven’s sake.

The fall out of trying to sit with the abused in the darkness and actually help them is costly on a million different levels. YES. The fear of what could happen is a snarling dog consistently nipping at my heels. Absolutely.

But, isn’t that willingness to risk comfort and safety elemental qualities of the cross-life, which was modeled for us and to which we were called into in the first place? Stick your heads in the sand if you want (actually, please don’t) but this is a Normandy beach, friends. The world is at war, and if people that claim to follow Jesus aren’t willing to (yes I say this literally) lay down their lives or at least some amount of “safety” on behalf of the Kingdom, on behalf of the most, most vulnerable, then we. have. missed. it.

I fear we as Christians have become a Frodo spinning a ring on his finger, but refusing to leave the Shire.

And yes, soldiers get bloody. And tired. And they risk. They slay dragons, and they get stabbed in the back. And sometimes, they do die.

But this is the life Jesus actually lived, after all. “Take up your cross, deny yourself, follow Me”; not “take up your safety, fight for self-preservation, follow public opinion.”

The world will know who we belong to, who we follow, by our love, after all. And “there is no greater love than laying down a life for a friend.” And whether that’s the foster kid or the orphan, the trafficked girl or the homeless man, the families in the rougher neighborhood, the person who doesn’t hold your theology or your country’s passport, or the refugee, a love that sacrifices, that actually costs us something is what we fight for. And this is the love that looms larger than the fear. 


Writing is really an outlet for me, a way I engage my heart, a way I process the journey with God, especially. I got my writing jumpstart six years when I started writing honestly and vulnerably about my journey as a young missionary who didn’t have a clue and who was barely getting up off the floor most days.

I wrote and wrote. And people responded and a community was formed, which birthed friendships and discussions and launched another community, A Life Overseas which I launched with my dear friend Angie Washington a few years ago. I found a lot of joy (and probably, okay definitely, some pride) in that little blog of mine, a lifeline to staying fully alive and engaged.

And then a move back to the states, and then another back to Thailand, while working a full-time scramble trying to pump enough life into this nonprofit The Exodus Road so that it could breathe a bit on its own, and my personal of lifeline of writing got lost somewhere along the way. Whether it was just the season or my own crazy-stupidity to not take care of my soul (probably a little of both), I barely wrote — honestly, for myself – for three entire years. A post here and there, but my blog stayed dormant mostly. People kept reading and commenting, but I wasn’t paying attention. I hadn’t been paying attention for quite some time.

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A Wake Up Call. I’ve really tried to start fighting for myself more here lately. I look around and notice a bit of soul-wreckage — the kind that comes from running too hard, for too long. So I’ve started exercising regularly (and with friends!); I invite good people over for real conversation and fun drinks. And I’ve started writing again. Baby steps perhaps, but I’ve thrown out things here on my Facebook page which seemed too daunting to write a full-on blog post about. And even though it’s just a status with meaning here and there, I’ve loved it. It’s brought real life and joy. To listen to what He’s telling me, to spin out the words, like my own kind of art, and to see how people respond.

And, Tuesday, I took a bold step — resurrections is sometimes more vulnerable than even creation. I knew my site was having trouble with my hosting company (it had partially crashed, similar to this last Spring), but I hadn’t had the capacity to even look at it until this week, to step back into blog world — that “home” that wasn’t work, but was just . . . me.

And two hours into a live chat, I got the final verdict. The text of the posts were saved (maybe, fingers crossed) but the entire site itself and it’s content and all formatting is lost. No back ups anywhere, REALLY. Thousands of comments, hundreds of photos, over 500 posts chronicling my journey overseas in these raw words I can’t re-create. We still have one hail mary left that might restore things if we call in a weirdly-coded back-up and an IT-houdini-backflip-move, but it’s looking like the HOUSE HAS BURNED DOWN PEOPLE (not that you remember the house, it’s been quiet for several years, but the house sure carried a lot of memories for me).

And I’ll admit Tuesday was a day spent in the pit, among the ashes. Yes, this is true. BUT. But, here’s the thing I’m continuing to see in my life –

“Any movement towards freedom or life, towards God or others will be opposed.” (-John Eldridge)

YES. I try to pay attention to my soul and lift my head up off the mat, and WHAM! Not happening. There’s an IT hell between you and that dream, sweetheart. I step towards community or a Spirit-whisper or life/work balance again, and you’d think I was trying to drag deadweight up a hill in knee-deep mud walking barefoot.
The gravity of gerbil wheels and rat races, anesthetizing and apathy is a heavy one. And those voices telling you to just sit down, it’s too hard and you’re too tired, are loud – LOUD in your exhausted, distracted ears.

But, man, it’s these moments that count, you guys- these moments in the mud on the side of the mountain climbing towards life. And I’ve chosen to sit down for several years now, tossed in the towel on something I really love, a way God shows up in my life, and I’ve got to tell you, I wouldn’t recommend it.

So, today, can I say? On your feet, friends. One step forward. Back in the ring, back in the saddle, again. And then when the sh*t hits the fan, get back up again. And then again. And one more time. Expect opposition, expect mud, just know that beat downs don’t have to equate to knock outs. We need each other fully alive too much to quit.


Update. This post was originally posted on Facebook when this site was down. However, thankfully!, the hail mary actually worked after about two weeks and nine hours of work from my amazing husband. A few posts were lost and I have lots of maintenance and security issues to catch up on, but turns out the house didn’t burn down, after all. WHEW.


Living The Dream

by Laura on November 20, 2015

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Two weeks ago, I found myself knee-deep in a gripe session to Matt about the realities of my job. Despite my instagram feed which screams of jungles and adventures and motorbikes on beaches, my day-to-day work routine is actually quite mundane, and fairly isolating, most weeks. It’s grants and spreadsheets and a billion emails. It’s stress and people-messiness and mountains of heavy. It is the pressure (sometimes suffocating) of fundraising to keep 21 staff members and their work funded and moving forward. It’s a husband that travels or that struggles with flashbacks. My day-to-day is sometimes boring, sometimes brutal, but hardly ever “inspirational! the stuff of dreams! stop the presses, things are going brilliantly and easily over here!”

And in the midst of this self-imposed pity-session, I was editing photos on my phone from some of our field teams — a selfie smiling among precious brown-skinned children, travel shots into beautiful remote places. And my immediate reaction was not as Mother Teresa’s would have been. As it should have been. It was unguarded words I didn’t know were brewing: “I feel like I’m bleeding out so that other people can live my dream.”

Because I’ll be honest, my dream is holding the hands of the vulnerable not holding the reins, to be tasked with building relationships, not budgets, to hold deeply and personally the story of one, not necessarily the stories of many from a report on email. My dream was to walk down the alleys, travel into the hearts of survivors, battle in the trenches, like actually. Not figuratively. And I struggle against this reality that the journey for me isn’t shaping up to include typically the things I really wanted to do in the first place.

Yes, yes, I know– woe. is. me. (Things could be a lot tougher. I could be a lot more uninvolved. I know, I know.)

But I confess this angst and attitude because just three days later, I’m wiping crumbs from the table from kids that were rushing out the door, and obsessing internally about a grant that was pending, and I’m playing the tape-o-whine on repeat, “Poor me. Bleeding out so other people can live my dream.”
And I swear, I hear this in my soul, in that Spirit-whisper:”So, you’re bleeding out so that others can live a dream? Welcome to the cross-life, sweetheart.”

Oh. Yeah. THAT.

How quickly I forget that when I say I want to follow the way of Jesus, that actually means sharing in sufferings. It actually means sacrifice, not always glory. Actually, hardly ever glory. And very rarely comfort or even getting what we think we want. And while I do believe God wants us “fully alive” and “pursuing our dreams” in our vocations and life-stories, maybe sometimes the dreams we are called to pursue are on behalf of those around us and not ourselves. And maybe sometimes that pursuit is far less flashing lights and dramatic action and far more faithful choices, made backstage.

And so, I don’t know, maybe that resonates in your world today? Maybe you’re bleeding out, too, for a spouse, a kid, a job, a ministry, an enemy. And maybe you find yourself in the drudgery of obedience or right living, and you’re tired, discouraged, or even somehow, resentful that things aren’t shaping up the way you planned, that things aren’t easier or even more exciting, that *your* dreams aren’t coming true.

I reckon I would offer just this as an encouragement, a prompt to keep moving forward — “Welcome to the cross-life, sweetheart.” It’s sometimes boring, and sometimes brutal and very rarely the stuff of dreams. Or, actually, maybe it is. Just not the ‘my dreams’ you thought you were fighting for.


The Slippery Truth

March 4, 2015

The Truth is a slippery son-of-a-gun. It’s like one of those water wiggler snakes I got for one of my middle school birthdays. It seemed a chintzy gift– a tube of rubber with water inside– until I held it in my awkward hands. I’d have it firmly in my grip, settled, sure. Then I’d turn […]

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God’s Work Without God

February 8, 2015
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It’s entirely possible to do God’s work without God, utterly likely that Spirit-breathed-ministry can morph into self-fueled-effort. This is the way of humanity and most Christian work as I’ve come to see it. Sadly, the same can be said of myself. What started faith-only and desperate-for-Jesus slid subtly over time into action-driven and next-step-logical. And I’m just […]

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Tending Graves

February 3, 2015
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“The resurrection life you received from God is not a TIMID, GRAVE-TENDING LIFE. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like, ‘What’s next, Papa?’ “(Romans 8, The Message) The last eight months, since we stepped foot on Asian soil, have felt a little like navigating active land mine fields– unexpected detonations becoming more common than […]

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Mach Eight (And How Launching a Nonprofit Nearly Killed Us)

December 9, 2014
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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 […]

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Bride and Divorce

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, […]

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Is the Purpose of Missions KINGDOM or GOSPEL?

January 21, 2014

“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 […]

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