And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Do not read.

Warning: The content of this blogpost is intense and is not appropriate for younger readers.

This post for Dressember feels like the most important post I've written. Ever. I want to talk about causes. See, I believe that trafficking is a symptom. A symptom that has to be treated (and thankfully is treated through the amazing work of organizations like IJM). The problem is you can treat symptoms forever, but if you don't attack the cause then nothing will ever change. I believe one of the biggest causes of trafficking is pornography. I'm not talking about whether or not people should look at pornography, that's a different issue. I am talking about the normalization of extreme sexual behavior such as rape, abuse, and exploitation of children through pornography.

And the biggest problem? No one wants to talk about it.

There is rarely discussion of the more extreme types of pornography when people argue about whether or not it is right. I refuse to believe that a person wakes up one day and decides to become a pedophile. Perhaps they are born with an innate attraction to children, but to become a pedophile is a slow process. In my experience, the process always starts with porn. It starts with soft core porn and spirals from there. Most people can agree there is certain deviant sexual behavior that is not ok, but pornography insidiously exposes people to these behaviors before they realize what they're watching. Sadly pornography, even in its most extreme form, is eventually not enough and people act on these deviant sexual desires.

Even for the people who don't actually look at this dark side of pornography, there is an equally dangerous issue called ignorance. "If I don't know, then I'm not responsible." People do not want to acknowledge the existence of child pornography. People do not want to learn the fact that 70,000 people used a credit card to purchase a $29.95 monthly subscription to a website called baby rape. People do not want to know there is a dark part of the internet that cannot be found through google. People do not want to believe there is a child pornographer who posted threads titled, "Producing kiddie porn for dummies", "Toddler childporn star", "Crying rape", and "Need ideas for blackmailed girl." People do not want to accept the existence of PedoEmpires. People do not want to be aware of the genre of pornography called HurtCore, which depicts real life rapes, including the sexual assaults of children.

But all of that is true.

I desperately wish it weren't.

But everything I just wrote is true.

And my heart shatters.

My heart breaks for each one of those children who are casualties. My heart breaks for each one of those viewers who deceive everyone around them, including themselves. Chances are my heart breaks for you. You who have been abused, whose bodies have been treated as objects of pleasure rather than holy temples. You who have looked at child pornography. You who are addicted to any kind of porn. You who feel unbearable shame. You who have bought sex. You who have turned a blind eye to the reality of child pornography's prevalence. Can I speak some truth? Because I get it. Pornography is a taboo topic; however, the absolute worst thing you can do is hide. You can't allow shame to overtake you. Whether you're a victim or a viewer or a bystander. Seek help. Learn how to control your addiction instead of allowing your addiction to control you. Learn how to face the demons of your past and heal. Learn how to be an educated advocate.

Most importantly, learn how to believe in the inherent beauty and worth of every human being.

#Dressember day 20
Dressember fundraising page:
https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraise?fcid=381534

Sources:
http://www.dailydot.com/crime/chris-grief-hurt2thecore-arrest-tor/
http://www.citizenlink.com/2010/06/14/pornography’s-threat-to-children/

Friday, December 12, 2014

Hiking Pack Wardrobe.

Three years ago I lived out of a hiking pack for 9 months. Those were some of the sweetest months of my entire life. Not without challenges, that is for sure, but so so sweet nonetheless. I feel like this month, Dressember, has been a life-giving reminder of those 9 months in more than one way. Traveling the world, learning about justice, being faced with the reality of human trafficking on a daily basis. Each time I put on a dress, I am reminded of different experiences, different stories, different faces, most of which, I encountered in that time overseas.

One of my favorite parts about that experience was learning about the beauty in simplicity. Creativity is so naturally exposed when you live in a place of simplicity. As you can imagine, with one bag of clothes you are forced to be creative. Mix and match became my best friend (as well as the tiny sewing kit I purchased along the way). If a shirt or pants got a whole in them, I had to learn how to creatively use the resources I had to patch them up. When it was freezing cold in Israel/Palestine (yea--you read that right. Freezing. Cold. in Israel/Palestine), I got really creative in layering as many clothes as humanly possible. When I was sick of wearing a certain shirt, I traded with a teammate or figured out a way to wear it in a new way. I really loved the artfulness of the challenge!

As you can imagine, limiting my clothing options to only dresses this month has been reminiscent of that time living out of a hiking pack. I've been surprised by how many people have asked, "Do you have enough dresses for the whole month?" For some reason, people have assumed that because I am wearing a dress every day this month, that I must be wearing a different one everyday. It's such an American thing to say. That's not to shame anyone who has asked me-the question comes from a place of innocent curiosity and I know that no one has any ill will, but can we just think about that for a moment? Who needs 31 dresses? I know this will be shocking to all of you, but I am repeating dresses (gasp) and I actually really enjoy it! I love trying to think of creative ways to wear the same dress, making it as difficult as possible for people to realize I am wearing the same dress I wore last week. I love mixing patterns and colors and textures! (You can see some of my favorite combinations below.) The founder of Dressember takes the challenge to a whole new level and wears the exact same dress every day! It's actually really impressive how she is able to change the look each day.

The mix of black and white patterns I wore today.

Bright color and bold pattern!

I feel like God has reignited a fire of creativity in me. Not just in the clothes I am wearing, but in the way I look at the world, the way I look at human trafficking. Part of the goal of Dressember is to help people realize that big problems can only be solved through creative solutions. I love the way that God has designed me to always be searching for a new perspective! My prayer is that I will look at the issue of trafficking creatively, slowly mixing and matching solutions until it begins to make a dent in the problem.

So tonight-I am trying something new. I am asking for money. This will be one of my only shameless plugs in asking for money this month (you can thank me later), but I really do think it is important. If you have more than a week's worth of dresses in your wardrobe (or neckties for the gentlemen out there), then I would challenge you to give a donation. Maybe it is a dollar for every dress you own! It doesn't have to be to IJM through my Dressember fundraising page (although I obviously think it is a worthy cause). It can be to any non-profit that you believe in. Be creative! Find a ministry you really resonate with. For me, that organization is IJM and I have had the blessing of giving more than I thought I would be able to.

So go do it.

Right now!

Peace, love, and creativity.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The greatest things.

© Blaine Hogan


Dressember Day 6.

I find myself at a loss for words today. Yet, I feel incredibly contemplative. Not good contemplative. Not bad contemplative. Just deep, inward, wrestling.

Survivor's guilt, perhaps? Why her? And her? And 27 million other slaves in the world today? Why not me?

Mourning, perhaps? Soul-gripping sadness at the pain and sorrow inflicted on so many?

Anger, perhaps? Table-turning, holy rage?

I can't quite place my finger on it.

And in this wrestling, I cling to the hope of this quote.

"The greatest things are born in the dark." Louie Giglio (GLS 2014)




If you are interested in donating to IJM, head over to my Dressember fundraising page here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Little Girls in Dresses

© Colby Moore Photography

Today's Dressember post is for little girls. I write this post is in honor of two particular little girls who are incredibly dear to my heart. Their names are Emma and Ava and they are my beautiful, precious, and adorable cousins. Emma, at 5, and Ava, at (almost) 4 years old, are the epitome of what innocent little girls should be. They twirl in sundresses and sing goofy songs at school. They love pink and purple, mermaids and princesses, jewelry and flowers and giggling a lot! They have two loving parents who have protected them from danger and showered them with affection. Every time I look at them, my heart just explodes with love and joy!

But sometimes when I look at them, my heart grows heavy as I am reminded of little girls who are also incredibly dear to my heart. Like Emma and Ava, they twirl in sundresses and sing goofy songs at school. They love pink and purple, mermaids and princesses, jewelry and flowers and giggling a lot!

They are the little girls who live in Svay Pak, Cambodia. At first glance, you probably won't be aware of the immense injustice that is rampant in this city because when you first walk the streets everything looks relatively normal. Kids are in school. People in the market are working. Street vendors sell noodles and fried food. Mothers cook and clean their homes. All the while grandparents sit in the shade observing the everyday adventures of the town.

What you won't know by glancing into this community is that 80-90% of parents are selling their daughters into the sex trade. In this community the mark of how much parents love their daughters is not indicated by whether or not the parents will sell the little girl, rather it is indicated by whether they sell their daughter to a pimp who will take her to another region versus keeping her local and selling her to men and tourists in their own community. This thinking is so outside the realm of normalcy for most of us in the United States, I feel like I need to say that again. A parent in Svay Pak is thought to love his or her daughter if the parent only sells the girl's body in his or her own community. Because I am sensitive to the horror of this reality, I won't go into more detail here. For those of you who want to know more, this article depicts the situation in Svay Pak in much more detail.

The reality, however, is this. Little girls should wear princess dresses, never be forced to flirt and perform sexual favors for 40 year sex tourists.

So today, I pray for all the little girls in dresses. Emma and Ava. Phy and Kang. And every little girl in the world. I pray that even if they don't have the ability to dance in dresses today, that Jesus will dance with each little girl in her dreams. I pray that if today a little girl is forced to wear a dress to please men older than her dad, that tomorrow she will be freed from this hell. I pray that innocence and dignity will be restored into every little girl's soul today.

Dear little girls,
You are worthy and beautiful and so so loved.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dressember. I must be crazy.


Today I made a crazy decision-I am going to wear a dress every day in December. Now before you judge me (because I would totally judge me...I do live in Chicago), I am wearing a dress for 31 days in a row for a reason. And here is the reason:

I am a feminist.

Now before you get your panties all knotted up, understand this. I am not a feminist in the bra-burning, eradication of men, women are better than men at everything kind of way. I'm a feminist in the pure sense of the word-I believe in the equality of men and women. If you believe in that, then you're a feminist too (ps-you should watch the video in the link). I'm participating in Dressember, a fundraiser/awareness campaign for IJM, because I believe in the rights of women everywhere. Ignorance is not bliss; it enables evil. I know my voice is only one, but I believe that it matters.
Honestly, I'm not super focused on the donation part of Dressember. I've never had a knack for fundraising and I severely dislike asking people for money. If you are interested in donating, you can do so here. But really, there’s no obligation.
For me, the focus of this month is on awareness and prayer. A few years ago, I embarked on a journey to learn more about Justice with YWAM. I wanted to both see and work to end injustice in the world. It was a lofty goal, but one worthy of more attention than the nine months I dedicated to it. One of the lessons that was the most difficult to learn, was just how prevalent the problem of injustice is. Sex trafficking, child brides, rape, prostitution, unequal access to education…the list, devastatingly, could go on and on. I truly believe that the end of these injustices requires a lot of work on our end. Work to change our perspectives. Work to discover root causes. Work to help women and girls heal. Work to open our eyes. I also completely believe the work is worth it. Admittedly, I haven’t worked very hard these past few years to end injustice. There are a variety of reasons why, but the reasons are irrelevant now because I can’t change the past. I can, however, change what I do today. I can change what I do tomorrow.
If you see me over the course of the next month, you will see me in a dress. For those of you who know me from my days as an athlete, you will know how shocking that really is. My hope is that you will ask me more about it. My goal is that every time I put on a dress, I will pray for justice. My heart is that every woman in the world will know that she is worthy.

Peace and dresses!

PS-I couldn't even find a recent picture of me in a dress. Otherwise, I would have posted a teaser.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Back to El Salvador!


God has been working in some incredible ways these past few years. Although it has definitely been challenging, God has been faithful to me and to the call he has placed on my life. I have been working for Willow Creek for over a year now and recently became a part of a new department. As I have built relationships and gotten connected at church, it has opened up several opportunities to be involved in our global ministries, a huge passion area of mine. I am so excited to announce that I have been blessed with a new opportunity, to go on a serving trip back to El Salvador! Earlier this year, I was able to co-lead a team of high schoolers on a construction project just outside El Salvador's capitol city. The experience was amazing-full of laughter, sweat, and encounters with God. This trip will be a little bit different because I will simply get to be a participant along with several other experienced mission trip leaders. In addition, I will be able to reconnect with a few of the El Salvadorian men and women whom I met earlier this year- investing in the relationships on a deeper level.

I will need some of you to partner with me financially. I am definitely investing in this trip on my own, but will need your help to raise all of the funds. If you desire to help me financially, you can contact me directly so that I can get you all the information about your gift being tax deductible. 

I also need each of you to partner with me in prayer. Pray for safety in travels. Pray for our leaders, Matt and Trinity. Pray for our team. Pray for the partnering organization, Enlace, and the church we will be working with. Finally, pray for God to move in ways far beyond our imagination!

 Here are some pictures from my trip to El Salvador earlier this year.



Peace and love!


Friday, August 29, 2014

By the way, I am going to South Africa

In just a few short hours, I will be getting on a plane and flying half way around the world to a country I've never been to before. Earlier in the year, Liz got to visit Cambodia, a country that I dearly love. Now the roles are reversed and I get to go to the country where she fell in love with missions. To say that I am excited would be an understatement! This last minute trip is right in the wheelhouse of things that I love (spontaneity, travel, 60 degree weather, mountains, oceans, planes, relationships, Jesus!) and I am completely energized just thinking about this trip. I don't have time to go into a lot of detail, but prayer would be GREATLY appreciated. Our itinerary is jam packed with lots of church and partner visits, so prayer at any minute of any day will be incredibly helpful!

I apologize for the brevity, but to finish I want to thank all of the people in my life who have loved, supported, encouraged, advised, and prayed for me as I have prepared for this trip. I am so so so grateful!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Simple

Many of you know that I was recently in Ireland. Liz, Mia, and I love international travel and we have made it a goal of ours to do at least one international vacation a year. This year we have already exceeded that expectation (Yea Canada!). Along with any trip comes the plethora of Facebook posts and albums of pictures. Many people have been requesting to see pictures and so this post is in response to those requests. What I have found in my international travel experience; however, is that no matter how interested a person actually is in your trip, there is a threshold of attention.
Let me expound.
I will preface by saying that I am in no way claiming to be a revolutionary on the concept of simplicity. In fact, many people have written, spoken, shared about this concept in recent years. Jen Hatmaker's "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess", the sermon series at church "Simplify" and Bill Hybels' subsequent book on the topic are some modern day examples that have inspired me. Even long ago, authors like Henry David Thoreau wrote entire expositions on the topic (cough cough...Walden Pond). I mean one of his most famous lines in literary history is, "Simplify, simplify, simplify."I think our culture is on information overload. We have too many choices. We have too many stimuli fighting for our attention. I really want to read the book, "The Paradox of Choice" to learn more about it, but based on his thesis, I completely agree! Shoot-just check out his TED Talk! People ask to see pictures of your trip--but after a while you can see their eyes glaze over. Somewhere along the lines, you lose them.
So bringing it back to Ireland...while there, I found myself challenged. In this day of amazing technology in which a phenomenal camera is easily accessible on your phone, it is easy to get so caught up in taking pictures that we forget to actually live in the moment. So on this trip, I tried to make it my goal to take as few pictures as possible and still capture the beauty and wonder of the moments I wanted to not only live in but remember forever. Which then got me thinking about back in the day. Anyone remember disposable cameras? 24 pictures (25 if you were lucky). That is all you got. No chance to get instant feedback on how awesome the photo looked. No chance to re-evaluate the photos worthiness of being in the 24. Once you took the picture, it was done. No editing. No redoing. The result was permanent. The decision was made. So this is my disposable camera from Ireland. 24 pictures. One line of description. Not perfect pictures, but they capture the essence of the trip.
My hope is that it will not disappoint you, but rather inspire you. Inspire you to travel. Inspire you to live in the moment. Inspire you to create your own adventures. But most of all--inspire you to live simply.
Park people-watching.
Cathedral ceiling.
Those birds. 
Wind-blown before Riverdance,
I love the juxtaposition of the old and the ancient.
Thank you John.
Galway's shore.
Converse on the beach.
The mix of textures is fantastic.
Laughter and photographer.
Evening picnic on the pier.
If only you knew what Mia had to drive through to get this view.
How can you not take a picture of the Cliffs of Moher?
Small town Ireland.
The family castle.
Truth in graffiti.
The colors of the boats. 
Lighthouse sky.
Holy Spirit door.
Marry me.
Enter the library.
Ivy.

Stop and read a book.
After the rain.



I got lucky. This disposable camera had 25 pictures. 
We love museums.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Bold Proposal: Beauty



The concept of beauty seems to be coming up a lot lately. It is a concept that privately, I have delved into on numerous occasions. But today, I finally feel inspired to write about it publicly. The picture above was taken on December 30 in a bathroom at a vegan restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa (Super random, I know). Even though it has been several months, the words pop into my head frequently. See, beauty is a concept that we, as a society have royally screwed up. We have figuratively (and literally too...) ripped it apart, torn it to pieces, and then sutured it up into an unattainable ideal. Like the author of the quote above so courageously did, I too want to boldly propose a new definition of beauty.
Beauty is not a size or a number on a scale.
Beauty is about being healthy, taking leisurely walks and climbing stairs when the escalator is closer.
Beauty is doing yoga when you've been trained your whole life to compete and running a half-marathon when everyone (including yourself) thinks you can't.
Beauty is not what you eat or don't eat or throw up or spit out.
Beauty is savoring food you've never tried before, cooking meals with friends that you adore, and (sometimes) downing a whole pint of ice cream on the couch with tears streaming shamelessly down your face.
Beauty is not perfection. Or liposuction. Or plastic surgery. Or the never ending rat race to stay forever young.
Beauty is in laugh lines and wrinkles that possess multitudes of stories from years of adventure.
Beauty is in the scars on our skin and in each and every broken bone.
Beauty is in the creation of art-scrambled thoughts poured out in a journal, slightly asymmetrical clay bowls, and splatter-painted canvases.
Beauty is in chalk covered hands and ripped denim, in sweaty shin guards and retainers that give you a lisp.
Beauty is doing the hardest thing and the right thing all at the same time.
Beauty is having difficult (and oftentimes painful) conversations with people that you love so that you can both grow into better people.
Beauty is listening to people tell you things about yourself that you never wanted to hear and, instead of allowing those words to defeat you, allowing those words to sharpen you.
Beauty is about finding the courage to love every square inch of your body, whether or not that inch is what society so viciously labels pretty.
Beauty is in confidence, in taking pride in the way that God so meticulously made you to be.
Beauty is not limited to a descriptor of only an elite few (most of whom scrutinize and loathe their bodies even more than the rest of us).
Beauty is unique to each person.
Beauty surprises and allures, it confidently captures the attention of every human soul.
Beauty was never ever meant to be limited or rationed; it was never meant to be boxed in.
Beauty comes from ashes and radiates from every human being.
Beauty exists outside of the blinders we have all put on.
Beauty exists in you.
Beauty exists in me.

See, I write this post not just for other people. I write this post for myself. If I am being honest, I don't always think I am beautiful and this lack of confidence is not rooted in who I am, but in what I believe about how the world has defined beautiful. So in order to practice what I preach, here is a picture of me. Not perfect. Not photoshopped. Not super-model worthy. But. I believe that changing my perception of beauty starts with a simple declaration. I believe I am beautiful and I will see the beauty in the people all around me.
Copyright Jamie Gray
Peace and beauty.