Do No Harm

When it comes to the dating game, no one seems to know the rules anymore. And it’s hard to play a game when there are no agreed upon rules. But what if we all agreed on one rule: that we would try to leave people better than we found them?

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It’s really hard to play a game if you don’t know the rules.  It’s even harder if everyone is making up their own rules as they go, and no one is playing by the same rules.

I love playing sports, and one of the things that makes a sport a sport is an agreed upon set of rules.  It’s how I know if I’m playing soccer (where there are penalties for anyone but the goalie using their hands), or if I’m playing basketball (where a kicked ball results in a turnover).  There are such things as out-of-bounds, fouls, and goals.  In sports, rules actually make the game more fun to play.  Without rules, everything quickly dissolves into chaos and the likelihood of someone being injured is high.

When it comes to the dating game, no one seems to know the rules anymore.  And it’s hard to play a game when there are no agreed upon rules.

  • Who should ask whom out?
  • Who should pay?
  • If we hang out one-on-one, is that a date?
  • Should men open doors for women?
  • Is it appropriate for a woman to make the first move?
  • Can dating be just for fun?
  • Should I only date someone I can see myself marrying?
  • How long should we wait to kiss?
  • How long should we wait to have sex?
  • How long do I wait to call or text?

Poll a random sampling of 20’s and 30’s, and you would get vastly different answers.  And this, I think, is one of the greatest difficulties of dating today.  How are we supposed to navigate dating if no one is playing by the same rules?

It’s a confusing time to be single.  I have my own set up assumptions and guidelines I bring to dating, and I personally know how I would answer all of the above questions.  But I can’t assume that someone I’m interested in would answer them the same way.

I’ve dated men who insist on opening doors for me and paying (which I appreciate, by the way).  But I’ve also dated a guy who didn’t open doors for me because a girl from his past refused to let him open a door, accused him of chauvinism, and needed to prove that she was more than capable of opening her own door.

I know women who would ask a guy out if she’s interested in him, and I know men who would be completely turned off by that scenario.  (By the way, if a woman asks a man out, is she obligated to pay?  Should the asker also be the payer, since the date was her idea?  See, it’s so confusing!)

In the midst of all the chaos that comes from the absence of agreed upon rules, I’d like to suggest one dating rule that I hope we can all agree on.

 

Leave peoplebetter thanyou found them

Leave people better than you found them.

When I was a kid, my parents drilled into me that if I ever borrowed something, I should return it in as good or better condition than I borrowed it.  What if that’s how we thought about dating?

What I want to keep in front of us is the simple reminder that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  But somehow, when we date, we can lose sight of this simple fact.  Instead of seeing one another as humans, we can slip into thinking of the person we are dating as the sum total of all of our dating expectations and they become an object instead of a human.  Rather than thinking about how our actions affect another human, our selfishness comes out and we only think about things from the perspective of what we want out of the situation.

Leave peoplebetter thanyou found them-2

How is the way you date forming your character?  How are the patterns and habits you reinforce now in dating shaping you to be a better spouse one day in the future?  If your goal in dating is to find the person you want to marry, then the way you date is creating patterns for how you will treat your eventual spouse.  Even if you’re dating just for fun, I doubt you intentionally want to date with the purpose of hurting another human being.  And yet, when it comes to dating, there is so much pain and so much baggage.

We’ve all either hurt or been hurt in dating relationships.  Some of that is a necessary risk that comes with all matters of the heart.  A break up is a break up, and no matter how you slice it there will be some pain.  However, there are ways to date and even break up with someone that still communicates their dignity and worth as a human being.  The worst pain I’ve experienced in break ups didn’t come from the break up itself, but how the break up was handled.

When we love someone, we should be willing to put their interests and well-being above our own.  Love is meant to be sacrificial.  This is the kind of love it will take to have a healthy marriage one day, and selflessness is also the kind of character trait that takes time to build.  Thankfully, dating provides us the opportunity to practice learning to treat others the way we would want to be treated, and to practice selflessness.

We know we’re supposed to treat people the way we would want to be treated, but somehow when it comes to dating we seem to throw this rule out the window.  If we just stick to this basic principle, I think we’d see a lot less emotional damage being done.  I suspect, too, that if we treat people with dignity and affirm their worth as a human being throughout every stage—from initial meetings, to texts and phone calls, to first dates and first kisses, to committed relationships, and to breaking things off — that we would make a lot of progress towards leaving people better than we found them.

Let me leave you with 5 practical ways you can leave people better than you found them:

1.  Avoid the silent treatment

If someone has called you, texted you, sent you a carrier pigeon, or used one of the 100 other ways we have these days of communicating with one another, honor them with a timely reply.  Even if you’re over them, even if you don’t want another date, they still are a human and no human deserves to be ignored.

2.  Follow through on your promises

Did you say you would call?  Then you should call.  Did you ask for a second date?  Then take them on a second date. Don’t get in the habit of telling people what they want to hear with no intention of following through.

3.  Stop hooking up

Bodies are not commodities.  We are more than simply physical beings, and we need to stop using one another for physical pleasure outside of an appropriately committed relationship.  When you engage in any sort of physical intimacy with someone, you’re training your body that this action is okay to do with someone whom you associate your current feelings with.  If you make out with everyone on the first date, then you’ve taught your body that making out is casual.  If you want it to mean something when you kiss someone you really do like, then stop making out with all the people that you don’t really care that much about.

4.  Use clear language

If you want to go on a date with someone, use clear language that indicates this is what you want.  “I’d like to take you out”, “Can I buy you dinner?”, or “Would you like to go on a date with me?” are examples of clear language.  “Hang out”, “Meet up”, or “Grab a drink sometime” are less clear.  If someone asks me to hang out, I assume it’s not a date and act accordingly.  So if you actually want to go on a date with someone, use language that makes your intentions clear.

5.  Practice appreciation without expectation

One of the things that messes us up the most in dating is our expectations.  We all bring in a truckload of expectations of what we’re looking for, what we’ve been waiting for, what we want, and how we want to be treated.  When we place all this on the person we’re just going on a date with, it brings a ton of pressure and paves the road to objectify the person across table based on how they do at meeting your expectations.  And, let’s be real, you probably have some unrealistic expectations.  So instead of seeing how someone does at meeting all of your expectations, just be grateful and appreciative of what they do bring to the table.  I never assume or expect that a guy will pay on a first date, and I usually offer to split the check.  However, I really appreciate if he does offer to pay.  Expect less, and appreciate more.

 

 

The Most Valuable Thing I Learned in 2015

A couple months ago, a really wise person in my life introduced the importance of moving what we know in our heads down to our hearts, practicing it with our hands, and then once that cycle is complete we are ready to share it with others.

In Rising Strong, Brene Brown puts it this way: “We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands. We are born makers, and creativity is the ultimate act of integration — it is how we fold our experiences into our being. The Asaro tribe of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea has a beautiful saying: ‘Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.’”

  
When I write, or talk with others, I’m so often tempted to short-circuit this cycle and move from my head straight to my mouth, parroting out words without having tested them myself.   

I set out to write this blog about a few of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in 2015, but then I asked myself which of the lessons I wanted to write about was fully integrated into my heart and working its way out through my hands…and I came up as a still-very-messy-work-in-progress.

And so this, instead, is my biggest lesson from 2015: That I need to do more than just learn something in my head and repeat it back as a hollow echo.

A few weeks ago I was finishing one of the best books I read in 2015, Rising Strong by Brene Brown. And while I was reading this book about finding the courage to live authentically and vulnerably, I was going over a scenario in my head that I was really frustrated by. I’m naturally conflict-avoidant so rather than do the right thing of getting in touch with a friend to talk out how I’d been hurt, I just sat there, feeling more and more frustrated as I read a chapter about compassion, whole-hearted living, and being brave enough to tell others how we really feel.

I had one of those ridiculous inner-monologue moments where I knew I could either keep reading a book about the kind of life that I want to live, or I could actually go do the thing that would put into practice the kind of life that I want to live. And so, with a lot of eye-rolling and “Are you kidding me, God?” self-pity, I got over myself, put the book down, took the initiative, and reached out to repair a relationship.

There are a lot of lessons that I learned in 2015, but a lot of them are still in my head. A few are working their way down to my heart, and even fewer are working their way out through my hands. But when I think about the kind of person I could be at the end of 2016 if even two or three of these lessons actually became fully integrated into my life, I feel hopeful and excited.

As a follower of Jesus, I have the most incredible resource for wise living found in the Bible. I’ve got so much of it rattling around inside my head, and in 2016 I’m hopeful to see how God continues to use the everyday moments and lessons to establish these ideas more deeply in my heart and help me live them out in my day-to-day interactions with others.

And hopefully, this time next year, I’ll have a few more hard-earned lessons that I can share with you.

Jesus, I’m So Glad You Came

Last year for Christmas, I woke up early and drove down to Newport beach.  I sat on the sand by the pier with my Bible, journal, and a Christmas devotional book by Ann Voskamp.  I thought about how grateful I was that Jesus came to earth, and about just how different my life was because Christ was a part of it.

From that spot in the sand, watching a few ambitions Christmas morning surfers and the slow steady crashing of the waves, time slowed down and I had a moment to soak in what felt like a real Christmas moment.

It wasn’t about presents, decorations, parties, or Christmas cookies.

It was a moment of peace, and a moment of knowing that Jesus had come to earth and was making all things new.

It was a moment where the holiness of God trumped all the hard circumstances in my life, and for a few moments I found that I could let go of all my questions and unmet expectations and trust that God really was on the throne and He really was good.

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This year, I’m working at 4 Christmas Eve services, going home, packing, and waking up early to catch a flight home to Oregon.  I’m looking forward to seeing nieces and nephews open their presents, meeting my brand new nephew Bradley, hugging my parents and siblings, and getting to be all together as a family.  And yet in the midst of travel, presents, and the Christmas goodies my mom and sister are known for, I don’t want to lose sight of that moment at the beach last year.

This last year has been crazy and chaotic, and the peace of Christmas is something I’m in serious need of right now.  Since last Christmas, I’ve gone through a tumultuous year of changing jobs and churches, and moving and adjusting to living with new roommates.  I’ve seen a best friend get married and two other best friends get engaged (along with countless other friends getting engaged, married, pregnant, etc.), while I’ve experienced a string of dating disappointments and heartache.  I travelled to Thailand and Cambodia and had my eyes opened to the brutal reality of the sex trafficking industry.  It feels like I’ve been in a constant state of transition, and God continues to break down everything comfortable in my life.

And yet, in the midst of all of the hard and all of the change, I know that God is up to something good.

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At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus came to earth in human flesh.  We celebrate that our God is near to us, that He too has walked this earth and shared in our experience of what it is to be human.  We celebrate that Jesus has shown us more of what God is like, and that He is loving and kind and full of grace.  And we also remember and celebrate that with Jesus coming to earth, God is breaking into our story so that He can make all things new and bring about redemption and reconciliation on earth.

It is a time to remember that Jesus has come not just into our world, but also into our lives.  And just as Jesus coming to earth is all about how God is doing something REALLY BIG to make all things new on earth as they are in heaven, God wants to do the exact same REALLY BIG thing in each of our individual lives to make all things new in our hearts just as they are in heaven.

I can look back at this last year of my life and see the hard, and the growing pains, and the ways I’ve had to die to my old ways of living, and die to my old hopes and dreams.  I can see the brokenness and the disappointment and the moments of loneliness and confusion.

Or I can look back at this last year of my life and see that God was with me in every single one of those moments, and that for every time my heart was broken, God healed it and made it a little bit more like His heart.  He made me a little bit more compassionate, a little bit more understanding of the hard things others are going through, a little bit more trusting, and a little bit more brave.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

At Christmas, we remember that God is with us.  He wants to make a home in our hearts, and sometimes it’s going to get harder before it gets better.  But through it all, we have the promise that God is with us.  That Jesus has come so that we can be reconciled to God and that every hard thing we’ve gone through is being redeemed and used by God to build His kingdom here on earth, and also in our hearts.

And so this Christmas, I look back at a hard last year, and forward to year full of unknown, and yet I say,

Jesus, I’m so glad that you came.

 

Shop for a Cause

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!

iGive

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).

www.igive.com

Amazon Smile

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).

www.smile.amazon.com

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.

www.destinyrescueshop.com

Old Town Roasting

Purchase really great coffee, and have 20% of profits go to local charities, or to fund microloans for coffee farmers around the world

www.oldtownroasting.com

The Giving Keys

An incredibly inspiring company making a great product that provides jobs for homeless women in Los Angeles.  Shop their stylish selection of “key” jewelry hand stamped with inspiring messages.

www.thegivingkeys.com

Mitscoots Socks

Purchase a pair of socks and provide a pair of socks for someone in need.  Mitscoots also provides jobs for homeless in Texas.

www.mitscoots.com

Soap Box Soaps

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

www.soapboxsoaps.com (Also sold at Target!)

Noonday Collection

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.

www.noondaycollection.com

Sseko Designs

Purchase sandals, footwear, or leather totes and handbags and help send a girl in Uganda to college.

www.ssekodesigns.com

Krochet Kids

Purchase beanies, apparel, and bags handmade in Peru and Uganda, and empower women in vulnerable communities to rise above poverty.

www.krochetkids.org/shop

31 Bits

Purchase stylish jewelry and accessories and empower people in Uganda to rise above poverty.

www.31bits.com

Jonas Umbrellas

Purchase fashionable umbrellas and fund a clean water well at a school in Africa.

www.jonasumbrellas.com

Sevenly

$7 of each purchase, from apparel to accessories to art, is given to a different charity each week

www.sevenly.org

Toms

For every pair of shoes purchased, a pair of shoes is donated to someone in need.

www.toms.com

Povertees 

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.

www.povertees.com

Even More Options! 

For an even more extensive list, check out this list of 150 companies where you can accomplish some social good with your purchasing power!

See the list here

Happy shopping y’all!

Shop for a cause

Finding What I’m Made For

For a few months while I was in college, my friends and I were engaged in a full scale (yet friendly) prank war.  It was guys versus girls in a game of who could out-do who, and it escalated to a point where, to preserve our friendships, we actually drafted and signed a “Prank War Manifesto” to make sure we didn’t go too far.

One of the girls had this 3 foot tall wooden fork and spoon set that hung on the wall in her kitchen, and the guys managed to smuggle them out of the house one night.  To get even, the girls rallied a few days later and went over to the guys’ house when we knew they would all be in class.  We shimmied in through the bathroom window and ransacked their kitchen, making out with all of their silverware—even grabbing the dirty ones from the sink and dishwasher—to hold as ransom until the other items were returned.  For a day or two the guys got by eating their cereal with large serving spoons before they finally agreed to make the trade.

These prank war episodes were punctuated by midterms, football games, camping trips, and coffee addictions.  But in the midst of all of the fun and frivolity of life at Oregon State, we also were trying to sort out what exactly it was we wanted our lives to be about.  We had made our Prank War Manifesto, but the guidelines of how we would live the rest of our life seemed a bit murky at times.

Even now as I launch into my thirties, I sometimes feel like I could use a clear manifesto on just what exactly I’m supposed to be pursuing with my life.

As I make decisions about how I use my time, what habits and patterns I establish, the people I surround myself with, and the education and careers I pursue, do I ever pause long enough to ask what it is I’m hoping to accomplish when all is said and done?

Life can be about a lot of things.  At the end of the day, when I look back, I want to know that my life, my days, and my decisions were being used for the right things.

One of the verses I keep coming back to is Micah 6:8:

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Act Justly.

Love Mercy.

Walk Humbly.

3 things.  I can try and do those three things.  I think the world would be a little bit better if all of us learned how to do these three things a little bit better together.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your life?  What do you need to say no to, in order to be able to say yes to the right things?

Micah 6 8

We > Me

I’ve found that when I ask “What can I possibly do?”, the answer is usually very small and discouraging. But when I start thinking about what WE can do, I can’t think of any problem that can’t be tackled.

The USA Women’s soccer team just won their 3rd World Cup ending a 16 year drought since their last time as World Cup champions in 1999, and becoming the first women’s team in history to win that many titles.

As I watched the trophy presentation, the commentators remarked on the amazing teamwork that led these women to victory.  When Abby Wambach came on as a sub late in the second half, Carli Lloyd handed off her captain’s armband to the former star and team captain in a show of respect to Wambach as she played her last match on the World Cup stage.  When it came time to accept the trophy, Wambach and Christine Rampone both accepted the trophy and then counted to three before hoisting it up together.  Rampone was the oldest member on the team at 40, and also came on as a late sub to play in her last match ever in the World Cup.  She was the only member of the 2015 team who had also played for the 1999 team, the last US women’s team to win the World Cup.

These small acts of deference were a small symbol of just how well these women worked together as a team, always looking out for the good of each other and eager to share the glory.  The victory accomplished was done as a team.

The first goal of the game came from Carli Lloyd—her first of 3 goals that would lead her team to victory—was off of a cornerkick from Megan Rapinoe.  That cornerkick was earned by Morgan Brian, the youngest member of the team.  Without Brian earning the corner, and Rapinoe setting it up perfectly, Lloyd doesn’t get her goal.  The point?  It was all about the team.


2 weeks ago, I was in the midst of my whirlwind tour through Thailand and Cambodia learning about the incredible work that Destiny Rescue is doing to rescue and restore children out of sex trafficking.  Confronted with an issue as big and evil as sex trafficking, I frequently feel overwhelmed and find myself asking, “What can I possibly do?”

What can I possibly do?

I’ve asked this question many times, and maybe you have too.  Maybe it’s about the same issue, or maybe there is another issue that you are passionate about.  You want to do something to help, but don’t know how you, one small tiny individual, could possibly make a difference.

But something shifted for me while I was on this trip.  I realized that maybe I was asking the wrong question.  When I ask “What can I do?”, I frequently feel small and overwhelmed.  But I started to change just one little word in that question, and I realized it made all the difference in the world.

What if, instead of asking “What can I do?”, we started asking “What can WE do?”

What can WE do?

I am only one person with limited time, ideas, and resources.  WE are a group with unlimited time, ideas, and resources.

I am only one small voice.  WE can raise a shout that will be heard around the world.

I am only one perspective and one piece of a puzzle.  WE are all perspectives and backgrounds and together can see the whole picture.

I am only two hands and two feet.  WE are a family with hands to reach out to all in need, and feet to go to every corner of our world.

I am only one part.  WE are a body with every part working together in harmony to accomplish great things.

I’ve found that when I ask “What can I possibly do?”, the answer is usually very small and discouraging.  But when I start thinking about what WE can do, I can’t think of any problem that can’t be tackled.

I have some good news to share with you, friends.

The needs in the world are great, but the power of God is greater (Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26).

Christ has built his church, and the gates of hell shall not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).

Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 2:23, 4:4).

Christ has already won the victory over sin and death (John 16:33; Romans 8:37; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

We are the body of Christ, HIS hands and HIS feet, empowered by HIS Spirit (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

We ALL have a role to play (Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 2:10, 4:7).

Sometimes I think we miss the point of verses like this, or we jump on the wrong bandwagon and then wonder why God isn’t doing anything.  Let me be clear:  I am convinced that there is no injustice in the world today that can stand against the power of the people of God who are being led by and dependent upon His Spirit.  I am convinced that if all the followers of Jesus decided to work together to end something like child sex trafficking, all of our resources and efforts combined could end this awful injustice within a few short years.  Or apply the same idea to orphan care, clean drinking water, or people dying of preventable diseases.  I’m not talking about political agendas and passing legislation; I’m talking about you and me being the hands and feet of Jesus to love people in practical and tangible ways.  No one is going to argue against us if we want to feed the poor, and we might even win some people over to seeing Jesus a little bit more clearly if we started doing things like this a little bit better.

So let’s learn how to play together as a team.

Let’s build one another up, and encourage one another.

Let’s learn each other’s strengths, and celebrate each other’s gifts.

Let’s get on our knees and pray together and seek how God is moving and how we can play a part.

It’s time to ask, “What can WE do together as the people of God?”.  And I think the answer is going to be pretty exciting.

It’s not just up to you.  So grab your closest friends, choose a cause you care about, and see how much greater of an impact you can have when you work together than you ever could on your own.

And leave a comment below with your thoughts, or your cause that you want to make a difference in!

WE > ME

Reflections from Thailand and Cambodia

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.

Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia

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.

Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia

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.

Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Angkor Wat in Cambodia

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.

Bayon Temple in Cambodia
Bayon Temple in Cambodia