My first solitude retreat to Tahoe was almost by accident, really.
It was summer of 2014 and I had planned a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway to see my brother who had just recently moved to the Northern California coast, and then on to visit my parents in Oregon. On a whim, I tacked on a few days in Tahoe to break up the long drive back to Orange County.
I bought my first paddleboard while I was in Oregon, strapped the 11 foot bohemoth to the top of my tiny little Corolla, and set my GPS for DL Bliss State Park at Lake Tahoe.
I fairly collapsed into Tahoe that first year.
I was burnt out, exhausted from ministry, and ready to throw in the towel. I told God I would give him these next three days to work a miracle or I was out. And then I waited. And God worked. And God spoke. And God breathed life back into my soul. And God took my hardened heart and broke it in all the right ways to put it back together better than before. God gave me a miracle that first year at Tahoe. There are still moments from that trip that I look back on as moments when God was closer than I had ever experienced before.
That's when I decided Tahoe needed to be an annual trip for me. Each year has been different, but significant in its own way. There's something incredibly sweet about the memories I'm creating with Jesus in this place. When I hike past certain places, or take my paddleboard out to watch the sunset on the lake, it's an invitation to remember just how good God was to show up here before. It's like when you get together with an old friend and reminisce about the good old days and tell stories until your sides ache from laughing. It's like that, only I'm recalling stories about how God showed up met me in life-changing ways, and I get to remember his faithfulness, even as I ask him to do it again.
This year was no different. I wish I knew how to bottle the magic of Tahoe and take it back to my everyday life, and also so that I could share it with you. I'm learning how to change my daily rhythms to bring some of Tahoe and the closeness I find with Jesus back into my everyday hectic life.
But I'm also convinced Jesus lives here at Tahoe, or he at least has a vacation home, and I'm kinda ok if there's a special magic about Tahoe that can't be found anywhere else.
Have you found a place like Tahoe? Would love to hear from you in the comments! Where is the place you feel closest to God?
It’s taken me a month to even begin putting words to my trip to the Middle East. There’s a chance if you’ve seen me in person and asked about the trip that I didn’t have much to say. It’s not because nothing happened; rather quite the opposite was true. So much happened that it felt impossible to know where to start, or how to do justice to the weight of the things I saw and learned.
And so, long overdue, I’d love to share with you one short story from my trip and one or two things I’ve been learning through this process.
Let me start by introducing you to Hana (Please note: all names changed name to protect identities).
Hana grew up in a small town outside of Aleppo. She was curious to learn more about Jesus, but everyone in her town was Muslim so there was no freedom to seek or ask questions, and there were no Christians that she could talk to.
When Hana and her husband left to seek refuge and a better life in Beirut, she was invited to a church with resources to help refugees. As Hana and her husband started getting connected through the refugee relief programs, she was intrigued by the love she encountered and wondered what made these people so kind and compassionate.
I met Hana at the church in Beirut, and later my team and I went to visit her home. While we sat on thin mattresses on the floor of her tiny one-room apartment, the conversation quickly turned to what Hana had been learning about Jesus and some of the questions she had. She mentioned Lazarus and that she wanted to learn more about his story, so I asked her if she would want to read the story together. Our translator helped her download a Bible app on her phone, and together we read John 11 and talked about how Jesus not only had compassion for Lazarus and his family, but also that Jesus is incredibly powerful and can conquer death.
Hana kept coming back to how loving Jesus is, as well as how loving the followers of Jesus are. “The love is unbelievable,” she kept saying in reference to the Christians she had met in Beirut. And while Hana said she still isn’t ready to call herself a Christian, she did invite our translator to come with her to church, and she said she couldn’t wait to talk to her husband that night about what she was learning about Jesus.
Much like Hana, millions of refugees have fled their homes under devastating circumstances. In the midst of this mass migration, people who otherwise never would have heard the gospel are resettling into new communities and for the first time in their lives encountering the good news of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but the hostility and violence of an extremist Muslim sect like ISIS is causing many in the Muslim world to reevaluate their own faith. So when these refugees flee the violence of their hometowns and are met with the unbelievable love of followers of Jesus, it results in a movement of the Holy Spirit unlike anything I could ever have imagined.
I heard story after story of Muslims who had dreams or visions of Jesus and are now Christians — our team even met a former ISIS soldier who is now a Christian because of a vision he had about Jesus.
In the midst of incredible hardship and darkness, the beauty and power of the gospel continues to shine brightly. One of the most pressing questions I’ve wrestled with while on this trip and ever since being home comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:
“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.”
As I consider the refugee crisis, and stare in the face of the greatest humanitarian crisis of my generation, I’ve been thinking about the gospel in a new way. Is losing everything, fleeing a war torn country, and living in impoverished circumstances worth it if that’s what it takes to come to know Jesus? In my comfortable life here in America, this verse is a nice abstract idea. In the countries we visited, it’s a reality. Many people did lose everything, and yet they gained Christ. Many face persecution and death threats from their family if they leave Islam to follow Jesus, yet still choose to become a Christian anyway.
It’s no wonder there is a revival happening in the Middle East because the followers of Jesus are holding nothing back. In Hebrews 11 we read about men and women of faith “of whom the world was not worthy.” As we spent time with the churches, pastors, staff, and volunteers in the Middle East, that phrase kept running through my mind. I met so many men and women of incredible faith, worked in churches that are a bright light of hope in their community, and walked alongside pastors that are spiritual giants.
It’s been a month since I returned, and the truth is I still don’t know how to adjust to being home. My mind and heart keep wandering to the people I met, the devastation I saw, and the ways I witnessed God at work. I’m sure over the next couple months I’ll continue to unpack and process all that I saw and learned, but there’s two things I know for sure coming back from this trip: there’s a revival happening in the Middle East, and I’ll never be same because of this trip.
Please continue to pray for the churches and the refugees in the Middle East. God is up to something incredible in that little corner of the world!
Holidays are here, and I’m already starting to think about all the Christmas shopping I want to do. In an effort to be a more responsible shopper, I did a little research this year on companies where my purchasing power can give back and actually do a little social good (and they sell really great/stylish products too)! And, just because I love y’all so much, here’s 15 companies I’d recommend you take a look at as you do your holiday shopping this year! (whether you’re shopping for others or, let’s be honest, maybe a new accessory for that holiday party you’ll be going to).
Shopping. Doing good. And you can do it all in your pajamas. Seriously, let’s get to it!
Set up an account in less than a minute, install the iGive button on your web browser, and then shop at 1,725 partnered stores from Amazon to Zumba and a percentage of your purchase will go to your designated charity (I’d recommend International Justice Mission).
Just like Amazon, but if you take 30 seconds to designate a charity and remember to start shopping smile.amazon.com, you can shop using your regular Amazon account and have a small percentage of your purchase to to your designated charity (I’d recommend Destiny Rescue).
This organization is near and dear to my heart after visiting their centers last summer in Thailand and Cambodia! Purchase jewelry, aprons, or bags made by girls rescued out of sex trafficking. You can also host a jewelry party in your home! Countries benefited include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, and India.
Purchase a bottle of body wash or shampoo and provide a month of clean drinking water. Purchase a bar of soap and provide a bar of soap for someone in need. Countries benefited include Haiti, Ecuador, Honduras, Canada, USA, Kenya, Uganda, Thailand, India, South Africa, and Zambia
Shop super fashionable jewelry and accessories, support fair trade practices, and help benefit vulnerable women working in Mexico, Haiti, Guatamala, Ecuador, Peru, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Vietnam, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
Choose your shirt/tank and your chest pocket that will be hand sewn on. Proceeds support women who are transitioning out of homelessness in Skid Row and other urban areas in Los Angeles, providing a place for them to belong and long term employment.
It was probably a mistake to go to Costco the day after returning home from a third world country.
As I begin to unpack all that I saw over the last two weeks in our whirlwind tour of Thailand and Cambodia, so much of my own regular life feels foreign. Grocery shopping and laundry are a comforting routine after 10 plane flights, 7 hotels, countless tuk-tuk rides, and 2 loooooong van rides along bumpy roads that felt like a real-life Indiana Jones ride. But even as I begin the process of picking back up my life here in Orange County, I know there are some things I don’t necessarily want to pick back up.
There’s something about travel, particularly if traveling with the purpose of learning more about the lives of children who were once trapped in sex trafficking, that can undo deeply held assumptions and expectations about life.
I keep re-playing one conversation from the trip over and over in my head. While visiting one of the project homes, I found myself in a conversation with one of the young teenage girls who lived there. She wanted to keep practicing her English rather than play the games that the rest of my team had planned for the afternoon, so we sat quietly off to the side — pausing our conversation occasionally to laugh as we watched the craziness going on around us.
The conversation stayed light as we covered everything from music to sports, and from boyfriends to learning how to ride a moped. When I asked her what her favorite thing to do was, she quickly answered that she loved studying English. This girl was incredibly bright, funny, kind, ambitious, friendly, and easy to connect with. She had a smile that lit up her whole face, an infectious laugh, and an easy demeanor that made our 20-minute conversation one of the highlights of my trip.
I don’t know her particular story–we weren’t allowed to ask questions about their past–but we did learn generally how most of these girls ended up trapped in sexual exploitation.
Every story is unique, and each girl has undergone her own journey of various hardships. But the most common scenario that played out for many of these girls starts with them wanting to do something to help their family. Daughters will leave their homes and families, and go to the city to look for work. With limited educational and vocational training, many of these girls can only find a job serving as bar girls. It starts simply enough, with helping carry drinks to customers. Over time, customers will ask for these girls to sit with them and the customers will buy drinks for the girls. From there, men will start putting their hands on the girls. When these innocent girls ask the bar manager, called the mamasan, they will be told that it’s normal and that they needs to put up with it.
From there, it’s a slow assault on their self-worth and dignity. Shame builds up as their bodies become more and more of a commodity to be used for the entertainment and pleasure of others. They still need to be able to send money home to help their family, so financial and family obligation coupled with shame form strong bonds that prohibit them from leaving. While they’re not in physical chains, the manipulation, coercion and emotional bondage they suffer under is very real. It’s only a matter of time before these girls are expected to do more than just sit with men and let them buy drinks for them at the bar; sooner or later someone will pay the mamasan to be able to take the girl away for the night.
In what must seem nothing short of a miracle, one day one of the men who shows up at the bar will ask for a girl to sit with him, but his intentions will be very different than the typical customer. Rather than trying to take advantage, he will offer a way out and a new future. This is the work of Destiny Rescue and other similar organizations, sending agents into the bars to find these underage girls and offering them a second chance at life.
Knowing the typical backstory, as I sat talking with this particular girl I could hardly believe that she came from such a background. Where I expected to find despair and fragility, I saw hope and strength. This girl dared to believe that her past would not define her as she looked ahead to a bright future filled with possibility.
There are some things you can’t “unknow.”
I hope I never forget those brief 20 minutes of sitting and laughing with this incredible girl. Her strength and resilience left a lasting impression, and her ability to overcome adversity is something I can only hope to imitate in my own small way.
I don’t fully know just yet how much this trip has changed me. I think only time will continue to tell how much the stories I heard and the things I saw have challenged deeply held assumptions and expectations of what life should look like.
I know I want to be different. I know there is a lot in my life I take for granted. I know there is a girl on the other side of the world who has given me a new perspective on life.
I wonder what a girl who has been rescued out of sex trafficking would think of something like walking around Costco. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with going to Costco, but it’s just that I can’t quite fit both of those realities together in my head quite yet.
I wonder what it looks like to make small decisions like how I spend my money and time with less entitlement and more gratitude.
I wonder what it looks like to realize that it’s something we have absolutely no control over, like what country we were born in, that can be the difference between two completely different stories.
And I wonder what it looks like to find more ways to be a voice for these girls, to find more ways to fight for justice, and to find more ways to bring hope and restoration to people who are still trapped in seemingly hopeless situations.
I’m so grateful for this trip, and for the work of Destiny Rescue. I loved learning more about the work they are doing, and how it has challenged and unmade some of my assumptions about life. And I’m eager to look for ways to make more of a difference with my life.
Chiang Rai, Thailand | Vision Trip with Destiny Rescue
Chiang Rai is in the far northern part of the country and close to several of the hill tribes of Thailand.
From elephant rides to playing soccer with kids in a prevention home, and from walking around the night bazaar to leading games and Bible study time at a project home, our team has really jumped into the deep end and found ourselves immersed in the work of the organization we’re here with, all while soaking up every possible opportunity to enjoy the beautiful country of Thailand.
Here’s a brief glimpse of what’s stood out to me on this trip so far…
My respect for the work Destiny Rescue is doing only continues to grow as we meet more of their staff and see their centers first hand.
From prevention homes that provide a safe and loving place for at-risk kids to grow up, to recovery centers that provide aftercare for girls rescued out of sex trafficking, they are doing incredible work to bring so much hope into their little corner of the world.
Chiang Rai is where the international office is located, so we had the chance to have several of their staff join us for meals and talk to our team about their role. The spectrum of prevention and care they are working together to provide is thorough, thoughtful, and well executed. It’s a privilege to see firsthand what they are doing, and meet the incredible men and women who are making it happen!
We’ve had a few opportunities to meet the kids that are having their lives changed through the work of Destiny Rescue.
The first day our team of 12 rolled up to a prevention home and piled out. Our tour guide had stopped for supplies and was just a few minutes behind. With the language barrier we all just looked at each other and no one quite knew what to do. But if there’s one thing that works universally to bring people together, it’s soccer! They had goals set up on their field, we found a ball, and somehow I found myself running around in crazy hot and humid weather playing soccer with Thai kids and wondering when I would wake up from this dream!
The next day we visited their jewelry making facility and spent time with the girls making bracelets. I’m pretty sure it took us all the full hour to make one simple bracelet while they could make 3 or 4, but the time at the center provided great insight to better understand the vocational skills and training these girls receive through Destiny Rescue’s care.
The last day in Chiang Rai, we led “len sanook” or active fun/play time for the girls, including a Zumba dance lesson. Next it was Christian studies time and we led a lesson about the importance of encouraging one another from 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Finally, for a life skills lesson, 3 of our team members who are dental hygienists led a lesson in oral hygiene and all the girls received a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss.
What’s stood out to me the most is the hope I see in their faces. I expected to feel heartbroken and heavy from meeting these girls, but instead I saw so much joy that it was contagious! I can’t even imagine how much they have overcome, but rather than be defined by their past they are choosing to be defined by the bright new future ahead of them. They laughed and sang and danced and smiled, and I kept shaking my head in awe at how hard it was to believe the past these girls had come from.
I was humbled beyond anything I could have imagined to learn so much from these beautiful girls and how their lives just radiate joy. I expected to feel hopeless; but instead, I walked away with so much hope for the future. What an honor to witness the true power of transformation these girls experienced as they were rescued from the worst possible environment and brought into a loving environment run by people who just want to show them the love of Jesus!
I’ll be honest: this is the part I was the most nervous about. I’d briefly met just a few other members of the team a few months ago, but basically was showing up at LAX to go on this trip with a bunch of strangers. There are 12 of us from the states: 9 from California, and one each from North Carolina, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. We range from 19 to 35, and all come from different denominations and church backgrounds.
And I’m SO happy to be able to share that I genuinely LOVE these people. It’s been so sweet to get to know each of their stories and how God is at work in their lives in such a way that they would want to go on a trip like this. I’m slowly seeing the different personalities and strengths shine through, and it’s so fun to get to share two weeks of life with this incredible group of people.
And then there’s the fun parts of the trip. Thailand has not disappointed!
It’s been an elephant riding, waterfall jumping, jungle hiking, street bazaar exploring, Thai iced coffee drinking, river boat exploring, crazy good Thai food eating adventure so far and we’ve barely gotten started!
I have a heart full of gratitude for the opportunity to be on this amazing adventure, and can’t wait to see what happens next and continue learning more about Thailand, Cambodia, human trafficking, and how ordinary people like you and I really CAN make a difference.
We’ll spend the next 5 days in Cambodia before heading back to Thailand for a few more days. Check back for more updates!
One last note: for safety purposes we can’t take or post pictures of the facilities or kids. But check out some of these other photos from my time here so far!