Can 1 million thumbprints change a woman's life? #1MThumprints

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We gather with our best friends every week for a family dinner. Eleven of us squeeze around the table and without fail, answer a "prompt" that the host gets to ask. This week Greg asked, "If you could change any problem in the world, what would it be?" Mine was easy. I would eradicate the devaluing of women that leads to so many more problems.

My 12-year-old daughter gave me a fist bump. She's learning a lot this year and somewhere along the way, I gained a friend, a comrade in my concern for our sisters around the globe. We're on a mission she and I.

Because when women are devalued, they cook the meal and serve the men and then the boys and eat whatever remains, even if there is no more meat, no more milk, and only a meager broth. So girls grow up malnourished and suffer physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

When women are devalued, they are not given an education because all they are ever meant to do is serve the men. So girls grow up illiterate, unable to read religious books used to control them or laws meant to protect them.

When women are devalued, they are groped, stared at, or cat called in public. So girls grow up feeling like sex objects and in some countries, cover up entirely to prevent such daily violations.

When women are devalued, they suffer horrendously in conflict and war. Subject to violent rape, kidnapped to become sex slaves, impregnated by their abusers, and other heinous forms of sexual violence.

Photo Credit Benjamin Edwards

And there is a lot of violence in the world right now. There are conflict zones in which women are suffering... alone. If they survive the sexual violence, they live with psychological and physical damage. If they overcome the effects of these, they live silenced and unwelcome in the community conversation. Why? Because they are devalued. Their voice is not respected, even less so once they have been violated, ruined.

Photo Credit Sean Sheridan

This needs to change.

But how?

Here's the thing. The UN has made resolutions, calling for an end to sexual violence against women and children in war. In fact, there is an International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 19. So, first off, we need to advocate for rigorous implementation of the UN's resolutions.

If that were to happen, and we saw a reduction in rape as a weapon of war, we still need to work on increasing the value of women. What happens after they have suffered? How do we remove the stigma of sexual violence? How do we engage their voice in community change? How do we empower them to be their own social change? They need to survive, then stabilize, then be sustained. And 1 Million Thumbprints seeks to do just that.

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Inspired by Esperance, a Congolese survivor of sexual violence, who after asking her story to be told, sealed her request with her thumbprint, 1 Million Thumbprints is advocating for and supporting local initiatives to address this very problem. Esperance's thumbprint became their mandate: Violence against women in war zones is violence against each of us. Each thumbprint collected for 1MT is a visual representation of solidarity, but it’s also a call to action. Each thumbprint collected will advocate for change and peace in the most dangerous nations for women: Sudan, Iraq/Syria, and the Congo.

On March 8, International Women's Day, a group of 15 women and 1 man will summit Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise the banner of thumbprints in honor of the women being fought for. In partnership with World Relief, this inaugural event hopes to raise awareness and funds for those whose voices have been all too absent in the conversation about peace in war zones. You can add your thumbprint or participate by giving here.

Personally, I'm excited to support two fellow Redbud Writer's Guild members, Kimberly Yim and Ruth Bell Olsson. Would you join me in adding your thumbprint to this campaign and taking one more step of your own toward solidarity with our global sisters?

She started selling herself at 14, but her journey is amazing

I'm pleased to have Sheli Massie guest post today. Her transparent and raw story informs so much of what I see in the youth for whom I give sex trafficking prevention trainings. Having a hopeful journey as an example is invaluable. Thanks Sheli for sharing! ***********************************************************

SHE SOLD

I started selling myself when I was 14. Not the on the corner selling. Not online selling. But the please pay attention to me and love me kind of selling. Please tell me I am enough selling. My mother did not drop me at a brothel in order for my siblings to survive. I did it to myself. Some choices I made. Some were made for me.

Me in my skin-tight jeans. Me in my overalls. Me in my long skirts. Me in my short skirts. It had nothing to do with what I was wearing or who I was. It had to do with who I wasn’t. I don’t ever dare compare myself to the millions of children each year that are forced into sex work. Or the girls who are walking the red light districts in their villages to survive. Never. I would never even think that the horror that they experience every day is in any way comparable to my mid-western western choices. But one thing I thing I can relate to is the shell of the person that I became. When you give yourself away and are left with just a shell of disconnect.

I turn forty next month. If I think about it long enough I can get anxious and start thinking of all of the things I have yet to accomplish and the things I never became or missed. Having lived forty years I have to say that the last five have been the hardest and yet produced most growth. Through being stuck in Uganda and not knowing when I would see my whole family again. To suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, and attachment issues when I returned. And then to be hit with more news of another child who had been suffering all along. And to watch as she went through years of testing and evaluation in order to receive a diagnosis that is lifelong. I have walked through grief and relief all on the same breath.

But nothing can compare to knowing that I more fully myself than I have ever been. I am confident that I am stronger and braver than I ever thought I could be. I am more confident that my experiences in the past are ONLY used for good. And thank you Jesus that he is letting me see the fruit of that pain today.

But me taking off my clothes for years did more damage than anyone could see. It left me lonely for the next 25. I know that others argue when you give yourself away it won’t affect you. God forgives you and you are fully redeemed. Yes. Yes to all of that. But it does not take away the reality that you are not all of who you were supposed to be. There was so much of me missing. So many parts of me still lay in back seats, parks, beaches, hotels, and beds. So much of me lingered there for years waiting for my soul to collect me. Waiting for me to forgive.

And I think all the time of the sweet angels all over the world tonight that are asking others to love them. To buy them. To sell them. I want to scream and plead. I want to hold them and love them and tell them “you are already enough."

I want to tell them it will take years for the pieces of you to fully return to a new healed soul. But this is not my job. My job is to be their voice. I can. You can. I now work for an organization called Trades of Hope. We partner with marginalized women all over the world. We sell jewelry that is ethically produced by using Fair Trade principle. By marketing their creations we offer artisans a way to provide for their families without entering into slavery, a way to keep their children rather than giving them to orphanages or to the sex trade. I love everything about this company. But the thing I love the most is that 25 years ago God saw the mess that I was making of my life and continued to make for years and whispered gently “I will make all things new.”

Yet it wasn’t until now I that I hear Him.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

************************************************************ Sheli MassieSheli is a writer on good days when a child isn’t puking or screaming or the dog hasn’t run away for the zillionth time or when the house doesn’t look like a Hoarders episode or she didn’t forget to pick up one of the five children from school. She lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband who has pushed her to be a better version of herself for sixteen years. She adore my best friends and she gets anxiety attacks around anyone pretty or skinny, so she stays in her yoga pants and writes about her redemptive story as a proud member of Redbud Writers Guild. You can find Sheli at http://shelimassie.com/

When Fighting Trafficking = Hot Mess

Hot MessSometimes it all catches up to me. There are weeks when I crash. Emotionally, I get flooded. I cry and weep. I have nightmares. I get paranoid.

Each time I conclude a training on Domestic Human Trafficking, an audience member asks how I do it. Someone always asks how I sleep at night. And I say that sometimes I can't. Sometimes I don't. And I'm so thankful for those times.

Like last week.

On the heels of an intensely heavy month, an article came out in our paper that 6 minors had been recovered from sex trafficking from the Western National Stock Show (the super bowl of rodeos). The same evening PBS aired A Path Appears, an incredible documentary on domestic sex trafficking. Later that week another article published that 57 foster kids in our state are currently missing. And then the Super Bowl numbers were released...

And so it hit me anew that I'm not just making this stuff up! This is all real. Kids are being sexually exploited. And it crushes me. Just crushes me that we live in a society and in a time in which there's space for this level of exploitation. That we live in a space that raises over-sexualized youth that warps their sense of relational normalcy. That we live in a space in which money is exchanged for a kid's body! I am disgusted. And the sadness can be overwhelming.

So what happens to me in these times of intense feeling is that my sadness turns to fear. A day or two later, the nightmares begin. The paranoia grips me.

I had dropped my 11-year-old off at her basketball coach's dorm for a private coaching session and wandered around campus for an hour. When she was 5 minutes late and not answering her phone, I started to panic. What was I thinking? What if the sweet tiny freshman girl coach had a mean evil guy friend who was going to abuse my little girl? What if she was already gone? Handed off to a pimp and half way down the highway? I was a hot mess and already had tears dropping when she and the cute little coach rounded the corner. Hot mess.

That night I tossed and turned. A friend was spending the night. A friend I love and trust and have known for years. But I was a hot mess, right? I was in full paranoia. It was my week to freak out. So I couldn't sleep. Because what was that little noise? Was that the floorboard creaking? The one that creaks in front of the girls' room?

And friends, I just have to say... it is so.good.to.feel. The fear and the sadness keep it real. It makes me stay emotionally connected. If I felt less, I would care less. And I can't care less. I can't. What is one week every now and then of being a hot mess compared to the living nightmare 27-35 million individuals suffer each day? What is my fear compared to the mother whose daughter went missing for two weeks last summer, sold nightly by a pimp, and recovered just before he drove her to another state?

In my moments of desperation, my prayer is this:

Lure Me Deep

Lord, lure me deep. Lure me into the places in which you have you walked. Lure me into the space in which you weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Lure me into the darkness to join with you as light. Where there is courage untapped, give me faith to access it. Where there is strength unspent, give me cause to spend it. May I be filled with enough love and beauty and dreams that the risk is worth it. Lord, lure me deep.

And you, friend? Do you share my fears sometimes? My sadness? What do YOU do?