Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What's in a name?

Have you ever researched the meaning of your name?

When you dig into the Word, you find that names often had a purpose. Even in the Old Testament, names were given with reason. I mean, Jacob and Esau's names were based solely on how they presented at birth - "holder of the heel" and "hairy" respectively (Genesis 25:19-34).

(Can I just take a moment to thank my parents for not naming my twin sister and me based on how we looked at birth? I can't imagine what those names would be.)

But let's think about Jesus. Jesus was named for the will of God and ultimate purpose of His life: to save the world (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus fulfilled, and continues to fulfill, the purpose for which He was named. I want to do the same. I want to live by the definition of the word that was assigned to my life.

When I researched my name, I found that it could hold any of the following meanings: defender of mankind, joy, courage, full of risk, going on a voyage, or happy angel. I'd be pretty content with any of those life missions, really, but my favorite definition is this one: offering with both hands.

Offering with both hands...that hits me. What would my life look like if I lived it as a constant offering, giving of everything that I have? That's a challenge for me - a big one - but whoever said that our life purposes were supposed to be easy to fulfill? I think the best ones are the ones that capture our hearts but challenge us to do really hard things for the betterment of the Lord's kingdom.

So, what would it look like to live out my life purpose? It would look like two hands covered in the dirt of the ground and the dirt of messy lives. It would look like two hands strengthened by carrying the burdens of my brothers and sisters. It would look like two hands handing out love and grace like the free gifts that they are. And it would look like two hands reaching up to meet the hands of God in praise, awe, and surrender.

It would be a picture that could encapsulate every one of the remaining definitions my name might carry. It would be a picture of selflessness. Those hands would be taking the hands of others to lead them to Christ, embracing everyday people in a message of safety and warmth, and holding broken hearts while working diligently to patch up wounds. And there would be cuts and scrapes, resulting in lasting scars...each one labeling a valuable, life-shaping memory.

It would be hard.

But doesn't that sound like an offering worth making? Doesn't that sound like a life truly worth living? One that would be blessed by the Heavenly Father?

It's a challenge I'm willing to accept.

What about you?

Now, I get it. Not all names have deep, profound meanings that motivate you to change the world or change your life. And not all people have names that really coincide with who they were designed to be. However, I challenge you to reflect upon your own name and the meaning behind it. Is that meaning a real part of you? Might it help you define a purpose? And if it doesn't, then what name would? What word or phrase do you want to truly define your life? What words would you want people to read and think, "Yup, that's him" or "This is how she lived in a nutshell"? What message is God really placing on your heart in this time of your life on earth?

Find it. Define it. And pursue it...with everything God has given you.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Once Upon a Thaime

Photo credit: Connie Lengkeek Rock. Sign reads, "#1-GO-GO. 
50 gorgeous girls plus a few ugly one's [sic]."
It's been almost a year now since I went to Thailand for the experience that would break my heart daily; cause me to fall to my knees in gratitude for the blessings I've taken for granted; and challenge me to find the words that would describe what I saw, felt, and encountered.

I never found those words.

But there are women and children whose stories need to be told, whose lives need to be wrapped in your prayer. So I reach out to you...and with that, I will try to attach words to the experiences for which no words were ever created.

Once upon a Thaime, there was a little girl, maybe 6 years old, who walked the streets of one red light district - every night after midnight. She carried a bouquet of roses and asked visitors if they would like to buy some. The secret many people knew, that I didn't at the time, was that this little girl wasn't just selling roses...she was selling her body. She was "just" another numbered victim in this tragic game of sex sales. She was "just" another girl who never smiled and always looked straight past your eyes when you spoke to her because she couldn't bear to form an emotional attachment with someone. She is not just a number. She has a name.

Once upon a Thaime, there was an adolescent girl dancing on the stage of a bar, wearing high heels and a rubber ducky that symbolized innocence and newness to the industry. If you asked her mama-san, the girl was 18 years old. If you asked the girl herself, she was only 13 years old. How could she have chosen this fate for herself? How could she have known where this path would take her heart? She couldn't have known. She just couldn't have known.

Once upon a Thaime, there was a young woman who entered a bar in another red light district, prepared to apply for a job. As far as she knew, this was her only option. She needed to help her family and, without a high school diploma, she couldn't even work at 7-Eleven. She couldn't work anywhere but here. She spoke the words, "I can't do anything else." She listened to the words of a woman who was there to help her, someone who took a risk and walked behind a curtain to secretly intervene. She heard in her native tongue, "I can help you" and "We can train you to do something else." She heard, "Come find me when you are finished here, and I will help you." This young woman was already tied to her interview session, so she put on her uniform (a bikini) and stepped up onto the stage for her audition. Her arms were locked over her abdomen as she hid behind two experienced dancers and waited for the song to end. Men in the room ogled. The mama-sans observed. And she kept her eyes locked on us - the ones who would give her hope. To our misfortune, our mission was revealed and we were removed from the bar...prohibited from seeing the girl again...when the girl wasn't even in the room to know that she wasn't just abandoned by the ones she thought were there to help.

And once upon a Thaime, there was a 24 year-old graduate student who entered this country with enough research to fill the pages of a book but no real idea of what to expect.

She questioned everything.

She was angered by the men whose wedding rings glimmered in the lights of the bars where they were meeting sex-workers for instant gratification...it's just a perk with coming to Thailand on business, right? No one has to know.

She was caught off guard when a man extended his hand with what appeared to be 2-300 Baht (5-7 US dollars), offering to pay her for a sexual service she wasn't there to provide. Was that the going rate? Was a woman's worth in this industry valued at $7.00? Who decided this? And how does this monetary value impact a woman's inner self-worth? These girls don't know that they are worth far more than rubies, already bought at the price of our Savior's ultimate sacrifice. They just don't know. They need to know.

She was amazed and uplifted by the joy of the women she met who had successfully transitioned out of the sex trade and into productive employment...the love they had for one another as a family...the laughter they shared as they danced and sang with their hearts...and the hope that came with starting to develop a relationship with Christ.

She was confused by the women who said that the sex trade saved their lives, that they chose this path voluntarily because it would give them better lives than what they knew outside of the city. Lesson learned: no story in this industry is ever the same.

But, in Thailand, they have a common saying they use for everything that goes, "Same, same, but different." I think these are the words we can attach to these stories. Same, same...but different. Each of their stories is different: there's a different beginning, a different reason why the sex industry became part of her story, and a different search for something better. But there's always brokenness. There's always a need to be loved. And there's always a hope for tomorrow. Thank God for that hope.

Please join me in prayer over each of these young ladies and their stories. I'm just the girl who saw what I could and then went home to my comfort and security. God reads the hearts of the girls before me and He hears the cries of you and me...He knows the words that we don't have...we need only approach Him.