Bible Study Boost

I’ve been reading the Bible since before I could actually read. Okay, someone was reading it to me or demonstrating it to me on a felt board before I could read, but the point is the Bible and its contents have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

I sang songs with scripture in them in Sunday School, church musicals, and VBS’s, I memorized scripture in Missionettes, I studied it in depth in my high school Bible classes, studied it more in depth in college classes, have had daily devotions with it for many years, and have gone through studies with small groups and women’s ministries. I’ve read the Bible from front to back, and from back to front several times over. I have a Bible in One Year that I’ve gone through several times. My dad is a minister and my mom has led countless in-depth studies, resulting in many hours of scriptural conversation at family dinners. You could say I’m fairly familiar with the book, and it’s extremely important to me.

I am by no means trying to flaunt how much I’ve read the Bible. On the contrary. I may have been reading it for years but there’s still so much in it that is a mystery to me, and I’m far from a theologian. What’s more, I recently found myself in a place with scriptural study where I was just STUCK. I found myself unable to read that same passage another time. I would glaze over the commentaries, finding that I had practically memorized those as well, and it just wasn’t “speaking to me” anymore. I was just in a rut. I needed something new.

I’m guessing many of you can identify with this.

I did have some brief moments of fearing that it was because my heart was becoming calloused, or maybe I was just becoming lazy, or any number of self-inflicted things. And some of that could be true . . . I am human. But the bottom line was I just needed a boost – to take an approach that I never have before.

Now, while we all go through seasons of learning different ways, and I am indeed in a unique season in that sense, I found that with a good dose of renewed discipline and a study schedule I’ve never used before, I could look forward to studying the Word again. For me, it was a couple of very simple things: a schedule for the Bible in a year by GENRE that a friend was using and told me about (although I am not actually doing it in a year, but that’s the way it’s scheduled), and reading (don’t ask me how/why I haven’t read this ’til now) How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.

First, the reading plan gives you passages to read daily that are broken up into these genres: Gospels, Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, Epistles. You can find the schedule from Into Thy Word here. I like it because often the passages you are scheduled to read, even across genres, are directly correlated. It’s opened my eyes in some very new ways to some things, and it’s exciting. I also like it because the schedule has already been made for me. All I have to do is look at the day and read the prescribed passages. Simple enough!

Next, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll still elaborate a touch. It covers things from translation concerns to genres of biblical writing to how the meanings of texts applied in ancient audiences as well as modern audiences. It clears up some common misconceptions that in turn allows you to understand what you’re reading more accurately. I like it because the book is super easy to understand, and ultra practical.

There are so many study resources out there to help us study scripture, particularly in first-world countries; we are abundantly blessed. Use them. It’s part of “loving the Lord your God with all your mind” (Mark 12:30).

Even if the two options I have mentioned are not for you (or if you’ve already tread through those), I would encourage you to try something new to bring some freshness to your studies, particularly if you find yourself in a rut. Ask a friend, mentor, or pastor what tools they use in their studies. Muster up that discipline, and just do it. You will never regret it.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

P.S. If you’ve never used My Utmost for His Highest  by Oswald Chambers as a daily devotional tool, pick it up today!

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Posted in Books!, Theology & Philosophy | 1 Comment

¡Pulled Pork Carnitas!

If you know me well, you know that Carnitas is one of my favorite meals to make. It’s so easy, and seriously yummy! This is a year-round recipe. It’s cozy and warm in the winter, but doesn’t heat up your home in the summer (because it’s made in the slow cooker) and goes great with cool summer drinks and fresh salsa!

Years ago, I found a recipe on allrecipes.com and was so happy with it that I never bothered to find another one. One of the reviews suggested to double the seasoning, which I have always done and I recommend it as well! Click here to see original recipe. Below, I will write the instructions with the adjustments that I made, as well as how I serve the carnitas!

This recipe cooks for about 10 hours. Typically, I make the spice rub the night before. Then, in the morning, I assemble the meat in slow cooker in less than 10 minutes by 8 or 9am! So EASY!

Step 1: Set aside these items:

  • 1 (4 pound) boneless pork shoulder roast (I have not always used a shoulder roast. If you get a leaner type of pork, it will be tasty, but not as tender. Just make sure it’s made for slow cooking, or it will be very tough!)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chicken broth (or one small can)

STEP 2: Mix together these spices (this reflects the doubled spices, so you can just follow these measurements!)

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

STEP 3: Rub this spice mixture onto your pork. Sometimes I cut the pork into 2-4 chunks to have more surface for spice rub. In the bottom of your clean slow cooker, set down 2-3 bay leaves and place the meat on top of them. Gently pour the chicken broth, not directly onto the meat, so it doesn’t wash off the spice rub. Cover and cook on low for about 10 hours. About 5 hours in, use tongs to turn the meat. There have been days where I was not home to do this, and it turned out just fine. Leave it and go about your day!!! Your home is going to smell amazing!!!

How I serve the Carnitas: I found the picture (above) online. It looks most similar to how my taco-style carnitas look. Except our meat will be much lighter in color. 

  • Shred the pork with two forks & mix with some of the amazing broth.
  • In a bowl, mix up avocado chunks, lots of cilantro, lots of lime, salt and pepper.
  • Lay 2-3 small warm corn tortillas on each plate (or you can use flour tortillas).
  • With the back of a spoon, spread a thin layer of sour cream on the tortillas.
  • Add some meat and the avocado mixture.
  • Garnish with lime slices.
  • Devour.

On the side, you can serve with homemade pinto beans, or chips and salsa, or corn on the cob . . . or all of the above! Drink recommendations: White wine sangria, mojitos, or Corona with lime. Enjoy!!!

Photo via.

Posted in Food & Drink, Recipes | 2 Comments

Loving the “Other”

I was at a conference about a week ago about prostitution and human trafficking, listening to Rachel Lloyd, author of Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls are Not for Sale, and the founder and executive director of GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Service), a program that helps girls in prostitution leave the life in New York.  Her talk that morning focused on the need for survivor leadership in the anti-human trafficking movement—that views about women in prostitution have gradually begun to shift, and must continue to do so, from criminals to victims, from victims to survivors, from survivors to victors, and from victors to leaders.  She is herself a survivor, a victor and a leader, and I was inspired.

Later I was sitting in on a workshop at the same conference which was led by several other survivor-leaders.  They talked about their work—in providing services to women in prostitution, in partnering with law enforcement to help other women in prostitution successfully receive services and get out of the life, in social media, literary and research-based activism.  And I was inspired.

Then one of the women, the founder and executive director of an organization that provides services to women trying to leave prostitution, proceeded to rail against the faith-based community.  She said that churches have come to her organization with nice messages of hope with no follow-through, with exhortations to become believers without love, and with promises of something better without willingness to enter into relationship.  She said that in the end, these groups that came to “help” ended up doing more damage to the women in her care than had they not come at all.  And my heart was broken.

How is it that her view of the Church was such that it was her enemy in this work and not her partner?  This is not to say that the whole church community is like this.  I’ve seen many Christian organizations at work who are impacting lives and that are well-respected by the anti-human trafficking movement.  In Sacramento, I go to The GRACE Network (TGN) meetings where a group of individuals that all represent anti-human trafficking organizations—both secular and Christian—come together to strategize, encourage, pray and share the lessons they have learned in laying down their lives for this work.  Through the resources in TGN, several young women in Sacramento have been provided with host family homes where they can be safe and cared for, others have received tattoo removal services to remove the physical evidence of their time in the life, and others have received dental and health care.  I remember one evening my fiancé received an email from TGN—they needed a home for a young woman who was about to age out of the youth shelter program and didn’t have a place to stay.  My fiancé made a couple phone calls and found one woman who said she and her husband would pray.  The couple aren’t activists and they were not specially equipped (though they have received vital support from other service providers in the area), but they simply trusted and heeded God’s call.  The young woman is thriving and still living with them today.

At the same time that I know how much good the Church has done, it pains me to know that this woman’s organization and, more importantly, the women she works with, have felt so burned by groups that have come to visit her in the name of Christ. We must work harder to understand how to live out our mandate to serve, to love and to live out “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father . . . to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1: 27).

Part of this is in understanding and hearing what survivor-leaders of prostitution have to say to us.  One of the women in the workshop asked the audience a question—“what do prostituted women say is their greatest need when they are first trying to leave the life?”  Several answers flashed through my head.  Housing.  A safe place.  Food.  Childcare.  A job.  But none of these were correct.  The answer was simple—that we look at her like a person.

Human trafficking is one of the hottest topics in social justice today, but somehow prostitution gets left out of the discourse.  What we miss is that it isn’t just girls who are being trafficked.  When a girl reaches eighteen years old, her exploitation doesn’t simply end.  More importantly, we miss that pimp-controlled prostitution is essentially trafficking.  Why are the women (and occasionally men) there?  It’s complicated.

I work for a couple non-profits: Prostitution Research & Education, which generates academically rigorous research and spreads awareness about the need to abolish prostitution and human trafficking, and Hunt Alternatives Fund, the Demand Abolition Program, which focuses on ending the demand for commercial sex as a strategy for ending human trafficking and prostitution.  I work for them because, as a Christian and a lawyer, this was one small way in which I could use my skills and my time to serve others.

Through my work, I’ve begun to learn.  I’ve learned that women and girls enter prostitution because of poverty, high-pressure circumstances in which they needed quick cash, abusive homes, racism, homelessness, incest, and the erroneous cultural belief that men are for some reason entitled to buy sex.  They are there because they ran away from home and a pimp found them, became their boyfriend and told them he loved them.  They are there because they are told that this is the only thing they are good for.

That’s the harsh reality. While some women in prostitution are there for less than dire circumstances, for most women, that is not the case. It isn’t about empowerment or freedom, it’s about bondage and subordination. I’ve read interview after interview of young women who have been beaten by their pimps when they didn’t bring home enough money; who have been tattooed with their pimps’ names and brands; who have been beaten and raped by sex buyers when they didn’t give the buyer what he wanted; and who know of other women who have been killed while in the life.

Too, I’ve learned that women in prostitution overwhelmingly say they want to get out of the life, but studies show that for most women to leave, it takes on average six attempts to finally get out and to never go back.  This doesn’t mean, however, that they want to be there.  Rather, it means that it is really hard to leave—whether it is the only thing they have been told they are good for, whether their pimps are the only people who have offered to love them, whether it is their only means for making money to support their children or families, or whether it is some combination of these and myriad other reasons.

My job and our job is to recognize that prostituted women are our sisters and that we are called to love them. Period. No judgment, just love, understanding, and a willingness to hear them, learn from them, and partner with them in fighting against injustice. Even more importantly, however, that love must extend beyond trite promises. That love must be lived out, daily, consistently, and in relationship.

This is not to say that sharing Jesus with someone is a trite promise. Sharing the Gospel with someone is the very best that I have to offer to someone in need. However, it is to say that sharing the Gospel in word can become as empty and as damaging as a pimp’s promise of love IF it is not accompanied by action—actions like those of the individuals in TGN. Actions like the couple who brought in a new daughter when she didn’t have any other options. This is a challenging thought because it means that in order to live out the Gospel, we must embed ourselves in women’s lives whom society, for so long, has labeled the “other,” and to be willing to, in many ways, step outside of our comforts to engage with them and show them that we truly see them and love them as people and as sisters.

Additional Reading (in case you are interested)

I’ve learned a lot and have been greatly challenged by reading about what these brave women have to say, and I would encourage you to do the same: http://survivorsconnect.wordpress.com/ and http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/blog/the_survivors_view/.

It isn’t light reading, but the battle to end human trafficking is no light charge.  Human trafficking will not end until the institution of prostitution, which allows trafficking to persist, is abolished—and it is time that we both expand the conversation as well as recognize that the “others” around us are in fact our sisters and brothers who deserve protection, love and safety.

Posted in Being a Woman, Social Justice | 1 Comment

Why I Had Kids

Pregnant with #1

Every so often, a childless friend asks me some version of a question that boils down to: Why should I consider having kids? 

They’re probably asking me this because, as somebody who cranked out three kids in under four years, I would seem to be a natural advocate for motherhood. In reality, I am a terrible saleswoman.

First, I think that kids, like marriage or a liberal arts education, are not something you should have to be talked into. If the idea didn’t originate with you, just leave it alone — it’s not worth it.

And second, when it comes to parenthood, there’s not much to sell; from the outside, it looks terrible. Before I started having babies, I actually wrote a book — that’s right, a book — about my ambivalence towards parenthood. This was largely in response to the crazed, competitive parenting that was sweeping through New York City at the time, but I doubt I’d disagree with much of what I found unappealing about parenthood then if I re-read my manuscript today. I often tell newly pregnant friends — those with a sense of humor, at least — to make sure that they shop for clothes in actual stores, go to dinner and a movie, eat brunch, and read a book in a cafe, because all these things will seem like absolute luxuries for the next decade or so.

So, why did I have kids? Given that we have three, I suppose it’s a question that bears some consideration. To be honest, it started when my husband and I just reached a point where we threw up our hands and said: Why not give this a shot and see what happens? So we gave it a shot, and about nine months later Fiona arrived. (Please know that I do NOT take that previous sentence lightly. To try for a baby and get a healthy one — not one, but three — is a blessing that I still can’t comprehend. I know that there are many women who desperately want to become mothers, who would kick my butt at motherhood, and who, for some reason, struggle to have a baby. This is terribly unfair and one of those things in life that I’ll never fully understand. But that’s a topic for another time.)

So there we were with one baby. Parenthood experiment: successful. Life: good. Why go on to have two more babies in such rapid succession? Aside from some happy post-pregnancy hormones that may have clouded my judgement just a tad, my personal reasons for having children can be divided into three categories, which I’ll call Me, We, and They.

ME:  Once upon a time, I was a 20-something living in New York City. I had a seemingly endless amount of time to wander around the city shopping and reading books in coffee shops. I was miserable. Now I have three small children; never in my life have I been so bone-crushingly exhausted, with less time to myself, as I have since I became a mother. But never in my life have I been happier. (Please note that by “happier,” I do not mean “Motherhood is easy!” or “Motherhood is always fun!” or “I’m always so happy!” I’m talking average emotion over time.) How is this possible?

I believe that I’m happier now because I have less time for myself. Time for myself naturally led to a tendency towards self-absorption; and self-absorption naturally led to depression. If the only person I had to think about was me, all of my problems seemed exponentially important — any little dissatisfaction became catastrophic. Marriage helped with this, but in marriage your partner is (hopefully) a self-sufficient and autonomous person. Motherhood brought this pattern to a screeching halt. It is very, very difficult — not impossible, but very, very difficult — to be totally self-absorbed as a mother. When you are responsible for all the needs of one or two or three little people, you just can’t be thinking about yourself all the time. You have to think about feeding, diapering, entertaining, and loving these little ones who are entirely dependent on you. And at the end of the day, you may have done nothing that the childless you would want to do, but you’ve done a whole lot to love other people. And not much is happier than getting out of yourself and loving others.

WE:  Having children added a third dimension to our marriage. Don’t get me wrong: our marriage relationship comes FIRST (and we’re trying to make our children understand that). And I do not think that it’s necessary to have children in order to have a fabulous marriage. There are childless couples whom I admire immensely; they have amazing marriages and lives, and not having children frees them up to do things that I can’t even consider for at least another eighteen years. But parenthood has forced us to work together in entirely new ways; in order for our family to function, we need to clearly divide household chores, figure out our parenting goals, agree on a discipline strategy, set family traditions. And above all, we need to KNOW WHAT WE BELIEVE, because kids start asking about God and death and love a whole lot sooner than I expected. In other words, having children crystallized our family culture.

“We” also influenced our decision to have more than one child. I’m an only child, and that’s okay. But our girls are learning valuable lessons about sharing, fighting, and loving earlier than I did. And every time a child joins our family, more love is added; all of our hearts expand a little bit more to love this new person, and they contribute their own love to the mix. It’s a whole lot of fun.

Of course, it’s not all a big love fest. I recently saw the movie The Descendents, in which the George Clooney character compares his family to the Hawaiian islands — everybody separate, but connected by the bond of statehood. I think that’s right on, for any family. Each member of our family is a unique individual, but we have to figure out how to live together. Interacting with any other family member is kind of like stepping onto an unexplored island; its beauty can take your breath away, but it’s also filled with unknown dangers and pitfalls, so you have to step carefully. You have to slowly learn the terrain, you have to respect it, and you may even have to learn a new language. In this way, a family is an outstanding training ground for dealing with the rest of the world — for our girls, and for ourselves.

THEY: A family isn’t an exclusive and isolated group — I believe that’s called a cult. A family presses out into the world, and that’s where the “They” aspect comes into play.  A major part of childbearing has always been future-oriented; you have children to perpetuate your genes, to carry on after you’re gone. I used to dislike this idea — it seemed too cold, too “survival of the fittest.” But now, probably because I’m older, I no longer see it that way. There’s something deeply meaningful about birthing a new person who is partly you, but completely separate. Somebody who will (who has to!) listen to your stories, to absorb what you’ve learned. And the best part of all: somebody who has a chance to do life better than you did, who might even change the world in positive ways.

That may sound delusional. I know that we can teach our children everything we know and pray for them and try to set them on a good path, but we can’t control them. Sometimes they don’t do life better than we did. (This is another unfair thing that I don’t understand.) Furthermore, when I say “somebody who might change the world,” I’m not talking about power or prestige. I don’t expect (or even want) our daughters to be wealthy or powerful or famous. But if a child of mine brings even one other person joy, performs one selfless act of kindness, lives a simple life of love, then the world is changed for the better.

Maybe “delusion” is just a skeptical word for “hope.” And without hope, we die. If we don’t live under the hope that life has a meaningful purpose, that all people have the potential for beauty, that the world isn’t spiraling towards ultimate destruction, that one day everything wrong will be made right, that Love will win in the end — and that our children might make things better — then why bother having children? Why bother living?

In the end, I suppose children are about hope. Yes, you can have hope without having children. You can even have children without having hope, although that sounds pretty awful to me. And no, you should absolutely not have children if you don’t want to. (Most honest people who wanted children will tell you that, half the time, they’re not even sure they want them anymore.) Lord knows I’m not trying to convert anyone.

But that’s why I had kids.

#2, #3, and #1
Posted in Being a Woman, Parenting, Relationships, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Free Willy: A Metaphor About the Burden of Freedom

In the following story, I will draw a comparison between two unlikely objects: a whale and a prostitute.

There is a movie that was popular when I was a child called Free Willy, about a boy who finds a killer whale at a local water park. Eventually the boy inspires the people around him to go against the park owners’ wishes and free the whale from its tiny tank by transporting Willy to the open ocean. In the end, the killer whale beats the bad guys and makes an impossible leap through the air over a young boy’s head to the other side of the levee where he finds freedom.

Except for the catchy Michael Jackson song at the end credits, I rarely thought of that movie again throughout my life until recently when I went on a trip to Hawaii with my family. It was during whale season, and we had the opportunity to go humpback whale watching. We were not disappointed. We saw several whales breach. Two were at close range, and one whale even swam directly toward us before going underneath the boat. I was dazzled by the experience and immediately started looking up information about whales on the internet.

The most popular whale I found was Keiko, the actual whale playing Willy in Free Willy. Keiko was captured at a young age and transported to a water park where he lived in a small tank that made it difficult for him to turn around. He developed lesions from the tank, and eventually Sea World purchased Keiko and transferred him to a larger tank. Keiko was still living in captivity at the time of the film’s release, and once the film caught the attention of whale activists and the sympathetic public, there began a push to raise enough money to release Keiko to the wild. Against expert advice, Keiko was released into the ocean.

Now I will mention the nameless prostitute, who is lured into a brothel like the one right around the corner from my apartment in Thailand. The man who convinced her to sell her body also convinced her of how much power she has in this new profession. Her body is a valuable commodity, for she can rent it out as many times as she wants. She controls who her clients are, and in the end she makes good money. And she would still have her body the next day where she can make even more money. Now imagine this young woman in a tank where she can barely turn around. Now imagine the lesions she experiences as she subjects herself to this lifestyle. But there is fame and beauty on the surface, just like that brothel right around the corner. It sits open to the public dressed like a nightclub covered in neon lights and leopard print love seats. Only a few steps more and you see a school for young children. Walk a couple more steps and you see a fancy restaurant with colorful karaoke rooms. We need more irate mothers in my neighborhood, I think.

As for Keiko, he broke free of his tank and was released to his natural habitat. And yet, he was unable to integrate back to his original environment. The people monitoring Keiko hoped a pod of whales would adopt Keiko into their family, but there was no success. They found Keiko a month or two later alone and underfed. Another time they found Keiko near a village where he let little children ride his back. Finally, Keiko beached himself along the coast where eventually he died. He had been in the wild for just two years.

The truth is, Keiko probably acted this way for a completely different reason, but this is what came to my mind as it goes along with my metaphor. Keiko seemed to show signs of wanting to return to captivity even if it meant getting locked up inside that tank. He played with children, and disconnected from other whales, he lost interest in hunting for food, and he tried to reach dry land! (I know whales have their reasons for beaching themselves, but let’s keep pretending.) Let’s call it post-traumatic-stress disorder for whales.

Now back to my nameless prostitute. Imagine those irate mothers get a hold of local law enforcement and the brothel is shut down, and our young woman is officially released from life as a prostitute. Will she take hold of her freedom and dance to the tune of Micheal Jackson’s song “Will You Be There?” and forge a respectable life for herself? It’s probably not that simple. She has lost her hunter’s instinct. She is not interested in the help of a pod. Instead, she looks for a way to return to that tank even if it means one day she will get all used up, and no one will want her precious commodity anymore. In the end, she will beach herself on the sand, half-buried in some mind-altering drug that suspends the disgust she has for herself.

This is the metaphor that came to me during my trip to Hawaii. Can I offer a solution? This is a sad ending because I do not have the solution to the problem, especially since so much of the solution does not depend on me. Freeing someone of their literal chains when they are in mental chains is not enough. The deeper freedom lies only with God, but even then, that takes time. Someone who has broken all the bones in their body does not get up and leave the hospital the next day. It takes healing, and then it takes going through physical therapy, and then more, I’m sure. In the end, it all depends on what God can do. So yes, a happy ending will always be available.

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Posted in Social Justice | 1 Comment