SixEight Life


In the mess

Photo Credit: Ana Rey (creative commons)

Photo Credit: Ana Rey (creative commons)

One of the many things I do during the week is teach. It’s a privilege and a joy to inspire budding helping professionals to take action and develop their skills. But in my class, I have to teach some tough stuff. To be quite honest, some of my lectures are pretty depressing. One class is centered around the structural issues of poverty, which is a colossal social problem with no easy solution. We discuss the cycles of poverty, the causes of poverty, and the human side of poverty. We read painful stories and talk about messy problems. The content hits some students hard. Many are also interning in the public or nonprofit sector and may be finding themselves face to face with huge social problems and their client’s huge personal problems for the first time. It’s overwhelming.

And it hurts. Helping hurts.

It can be painful to get so close to someone’s mess. When we choose to truly help someone, we are choosing to walk with them. And it can hurt. When we choose to listen to the hard stories and we refuse to ignore the big social issues, we can enter into periods of pain. The first time this really hit home for me was when I was about the age of many of my students. I was 20 years old and was volunteering in Indonesia after the Tsunami. My job in community development was to support the residents of this community and help assess their needs as they rebuilt their homes and ultimately their community. But what I didn’t realize as a naive, sheltered, idealistic 20 year old is that to truly help, you must get close. You have to walk beside someone. And I did walk beside these sweet women, children and their families. I took them in my car to visit the mass graves of Banda Aceh. Nothing could have prepared me for the helplessness I felt watching these women wail at the site of the mass graves over their family and friends who perished in the Tsunami. The first time I went, I stood there, frozen, tears streaming down my face. There was nothing I could do but just be there for them. It was there that I realized that to help, sometimes you must feel the hurt.

Even today I’m reminded of the pain of sharing in someone’s story. I am surrounded by painful stories almost every day. My heart breaks when I watch a woman cry in my office because she’s separated from her children due to displacement. It’s so hard to watch the effects of trauma haunt a person who is just trying to start over, to survive. When I read and think about the magnitude of human trafficking in our world today, sometimes it makes me feel paralyzed. When I think about the stories I’ve heard and the things I’ve seen, I feel pain in my heart. It’s a heaviness that those of us who walk with the grieving, the suffering deal with. It’s the heaviness that comes from truly allowing yourself to know and understand the magnitude of injustice in this world.

But I’m telling you, it’s worth it. When you familiarize yourself with the marginalized, you’re walking in the shadow of Jesus’ steps. He was familiar with injustice, with suffering. By stepping out of the bubble of security and comfort and into the mess, I enter into communion with God that I can’t explain. There is even more of an urgency for His Grace, His Mercy when I understand the depths of suffering his children experience. HIS Children, just like me and you. The ‘least of these’ are important to God. It’s our responsibility. It hurts, and it’s not pretty. It doesn’t come with fame and accolades most of the time. But it’s so rewarding. And with each small task, with each small victory, it’s easier to see the redemption in helping within the mess.

So friends who are in the mess with me, friends who are walking with a friend, family member, client, or neighbor through pain and suffering. Friends who are fighting against injustice to the point of exhaustion. Friends who have devoted their vocations to helping others for little pay or gratitude. Friends who can’t sleep sometimes for the stories they’ve heard and the work to be done. Stick with it, keep pushing, keep fighting. We’re in this together.

And it’s worth it.

Waste Not, Want Not- and a ’7′ update

photo credit: (creative commons)

photo credit: (creative commons)

At the time of writing this post, I’m five and a half months in to my ’7′ experiment. If you want to know a little bit more about the book 7 and the premise behind this experiment, check out this post. It’s been quite a ride and an incredible growing experience. I thought I’d give a brief overall ‘update’ before jumping into the lessons learned from the most recent month.

Month One- Food: Fridge clean out for the Laney’s, which lasted us almost the entire month. We only spent $50 total on food. Challenging but rewarding.

Month Two- Clothes: 12 items worn for the whole month. It would have been less, but I started a new job midway through and had to adjust. It was tough and I kept wondering if my new colleagues noticed my limited wardrobe. Later I asked them: they didn’t notice at all. This month helped me realize that my desire for style and clothing can be a huge distraction and source of insecurity.

Month Three- Possessions: So far the possessions month was my favorite. Our original goal was 100 items but the author’s goal was 210. We ended up giving away nearly 250 items. And months later I don’t miss a single thing.

Month Four- Media: Media was tough! I love me some Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, New Girl, Revenge, CNN, etc, etc. I allowed myself a couple minutes a week to ‘cheat’ to post blogs, but overall I stayed away. I read more and focused more. It was tough, but refreshing.

Last month was Month Five- Waste. The object of the month was to understand and begin to dramatically reduce the amount of waste we create. I have to confess, I don’t think much about waste in my everyday life. I try to recycle as much as I can and drive a fairly fuel efficient car, but I don’t try to conserve energy or water on a regular basis. We usually throw out our fair share of trash every week and there are many items in the trash can that could easily be recycled.

Why does it matter? To be honest, for most of my life I didn’t think that it did matter. But it does. God has commanded us to take care of the planet and our trash, abuse of elements, and overall waste is destroying the earth. The statistics are easy to find. And our world’s poorest are falling victim to our overuse of the planet’s resources in dramatic ways. It’s my responsibility as a Christian, and as a resident on this planet, to be aware of my waste and to preserve the resources God has blessed me with.

So for this month, I picked seven ways I’d be aware of my excess in this area. They are (with progress notes):

1. Shopping Secondhand/thrift/local for any goods I need that aren’t food- I didn’t do much shopping during the month, no goods besides food were purchased. I still want to check out the local Goodwill in my neighborhood, I’ll do that soon.

2. Conserving Energy- turning off lights and building a fire on cold nights. We built several fires and I did my very best to turn lights off and use less water. I think I could have done better but I did try. Building fires was wonderful and I definitely saw a reduction in our heat running.

3. Transport- taking Marta to work when I don’t have offsite meetings: I had a lot of off site meetings but I was able to take Marta a couple times. It was actually very relaxing and nice. It took more time but I didn’t feel like I was wasting time.

4. Recycle as much as possible: before the month I looked up all the items we could recycle, and made an effort to do so! We saw our recycling amount triple and our trash reduced by at least half. This was the area I saw the most difference and it was very surprising.

5. Food- going local/sustainable restaurants when eating out- We were able to try one or two really awesome, sustainable model restaurants during the month. Any other eating out was done at local spots, no huge national chains. It was great to be able to support local businesses.

6. Using cloth napkins and paper towels- we stuck with this one the entire month, and I’m still using cloth napkins as much as I can. I think this helped us reduce our amount of trash and I didn’t paper towels too much.

7. Remembering my reusable shopping bags for any shopping – Okay, confession, I forgot several times. Kinda failed on this one. We mostly shop at pretty sustainable places for groceries and get paper bags, but overall I could have done much better on this one.

So to summarize, the month went well overall and I went into it thinking that it wouldn’t be too difficult. But its difficulty came in a different form than other months. Wearing limited clothing items, giving away possessions, doing away with media- those are ‘in your face’ all consuming tasks. Waste seemed to be easier to forgot, easier to ignore. And I have to admit, the month didn’t leave me with as many spiritual lessons as other months had. But I do feel like I’ll stick with some of the changes I made.

Next month is spending. I’m midway through at the time of writing, and this one- it’s tough! More to come soon.

Changing Roles

Do you ever have one of those moments that makes you flash back to that time you were picked last for kickball in the 5th grade?

Do you ever have one of those moments that makes you flash back to that time you were picked last for kickball in the 5th grade?

It took about two and a half weeks for me to get my ‘feelings hurt’ for the first time in 2014. Just two and a half weeks, pretty sad, but true. It was one of those moments that makes you flash back to that one time in fifth grade where you’re picked last for kickball, or that awkward 8th grade dance where  you seem to be the only one without a date. Anyone with me? Remember those moments? I really thought we’d outgrow them but they just take different forms in adulthood.

I’ll explain the situation a little bit so you can get an idea of where I’m coming from but not to the point where I’m gossiping about a situation in hopes of making myself feel good. I am involved in a ministry where I get to have a leadership role. I love my role in this ministry and am always eager to serve. Well, two and a half weeks into 2014 I was at this ministry position and learned at the last minute that I didn’t get to do my ‘role’. I wasn’t sure if I was forgotten or deliberately left off the list, but I felt embarrassed and just plain bad about myself. Have you ever had one of those moments?

I put on my happy face, blinked back tears and went about my day, but I struggled with my attitude and my own feelings of insecurity. Why wasn’t I good enough? Did I make my leader mad? Have they been talking about me? Am I failure?

But before I really went full force into wallowing, I heard the still small voice of the Lord remind me of His truth. “Child, you belong to me. I have placed you here for a reason. All things work for the good of those who are love me and are called according to my purpose (Rom 8:28). Before you were in the womb I knew you and set you apart. (Jer 1:5). And you are my precious child. (1 John 3:2, Rom 8:17) (NOTE- scripture quotes are paraphrased in this paragraph)

 I am so thankful for the word of God and the way that the Lord communicates his truth to us. I rested in his truth and actually ended up having an incredible conversation about the Lord with a woman who was not part of this ministry. I realized after our conversation that she and I were supposed to talk that day. And if I had been busy doing the role I thought I ‘deserved’ I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk to her. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her.

God has orchestrated your steps for this year. Even during situations that are painful or don’t make sense, He’s got a plan laid out for you. Even when we can’t see the path in front of us, it’s there and he’s guiding us. When your ‘role’ changes in a relationship, job or ministry, actively seek out God’s voice. Cling to the truth of scripture and seize the moments that God places in front of you. My experience a couple weeks ago was frustrating and disappointing, but in hindsight I can clearly see what God was up to. My prayer for myself is that I can trust God from the beginning that He knows what he’s doing. I’ll pray that for you too.


The Hidden Plague

On Sunday I asked you to take a journey with me. We went halfway around to walk alongside people who are at risk. On the outside there was innocence, but the reality is that the little girls I described are very vulnerable to a hidden plague that many of us don’t even realize exists. I apologize if I seem a bit dramatic, but it’s very true. The little girls I’ve worked with around the world are at great risk. Their parents and siblings are at risk. There are billions of people in our world who live in fear of this plague. Watch this:

You may not consider violence as something that’s hidden. After all, we hear about it on the news nearly every day. But the reality is that there is a huge, systemic issue in the developing world that isn’t talked about. When we discuss issues and progress in the developing (formerly called ‘third world’) we usually talk about clean water, education, malnutrition, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other physical and health issues. But usually we don’t talk about violence. We don’t talk about the law enforcement systems that aid and assist child sex traffickers. We don’t talk about the justice system in parts of the world where a wealthy person can literally get away with murder by paying an attorney to steal evidence. We don’t talk about law enforcement and legal systems that operate solely on bribes. We just don’t discuss it. Gross human rights abuses are being committed every day and we are not talking about it. To a certain extent I can understand why. It’s pretty hopeless to think about such huge issues. I’m just one person, what can I do?

book-detailBut this is a plague of violence that is set to obliterate everything in its path. And Gary Haugen, the founder and president of the International Justice Mission, wants us to stop this plague. His new book, The Locust Effect, is a powerful tool and resource to get this essential conversation started. His argument is that we “can’t end poverty without ending violence” and after reading his book I definitely agree. He tells us tragic stories of people in the developing world who have been severely victimized and traumatized. Then he goes through and explains what is going on in the systems that are causing these grave injustices. And finally, he gives us hope by sharing stories of his colleagues and many others who are combating this plague and winning battles.

It’s easy to remain disconnected from huge social issues like this one. I know sometimes I feel so small and insignificant in this huge world- I think that there’s no way I can do something to make an impact on a problem of this magnitude. But that’s not true! We can all play a part in fighting for justice for the oppressed. We can all begin to have new conversations about poverty that include this concept of violence against the poor. And if you are a follower of Jesus like me, then this is your responsibility. All of us have different roles, but we are all called to seek justice.

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern”. -Proverbs 29:7

“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”. – Isaiah 1:17

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” – Luke 11:42

It’s clear and convicting. We can’t sit around any more. There are grave injustices in our world and you and I have the ability to address 150300_10101034241733303_626411828_nthem. It seems daunting or even impossible, but it’s not. Awareness is the first step. And I’d like to help you with that first step.

I’m giving away one copy of “The Locust Effect” to one reader. I’ll draw the winning name on Saturday, February 8th and will ship your book to you the next week. But if you just can’t wait until then, you can find the book at your local bookstores or online. Check out for more details.

Even if you don’t win the copy, you can still make an impact on fighting this plague by purchasing the Locust Effect. For every bookpurchased this week (through Sunday the 9th) $20 dollars will be donated to the International Justice Mission, up to $40,000. All of the royalties from book sales will also go to IJM. Your purchase of the book makes an impact against this issue, which is a great starting point!

So how do you win a copy of this amazing book? 

Take action! Share in the comments what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘justice’. Tweet this post or share it on Facebook to spread the word. Let me know in the comments section what you did. Each ‘action step’ will get you one entry to win.

A Million Steps Away

Parumsheela and me. Mumbai, India

Parumsheela and me. Mumbai, India

Take a journey with me. Walk down a dirt, trash lined path in Mankurd, Mumbai, India with me. The smell is pretty strong at first, but after a few minutes your nose gets used to the unusual scents. To your right, a man naps on top of a table with his goat. Up ahead to the left, a few women in brightly patterned saris squat outside small wood and aluminum huts, washing dishes. Their dexterity and ability to keep such a steady flat footed squat to do chores is astounding. You watch them for a moment before you nearly trip over a small grove in the side of the path. That was a close one, that grove houses all sorts of dirty water and sometimes waste. You realize where that smell is coming from. You’ve been walking for awhile when you finally arrive. There they are. A crowd of little ones run towards you. Some are in school uniforms, others in street clothes, but all are excited. And amidst the crowd, Parumsheela emerges. Her big brown eyes and wide smile bring a smile to your face. She grabs your hand and guides you to the small schoolhouse. The journey was worth it, just to spend some time with her and her friends.

The picture looks a little different in another part of the world. In Kajo Keji, South Sudan Nancy wants you to walk with her to get a little water in jerry cans. The walk is a couple miles through a winding dirt path with thick brush on either side. You aren’t as concerned about waste or human hazards on this trek, but your eyes scan the thick brush for any signs of snakes. You’ve been told that an encounter with a snake in Southern Sudan usually means that you’re in deep, fatal trouble. It’s sobering to think that this walk is normal for Nancy and so many other little girls in Kajo Keji, a several mile trek daily just to get some meager water for her family.

Precious Nancy, Kajo Keji, Sudan

Precious Nancy, Kajo Keji, Sudan

Another plane ride would take you into a community of tents and partially collapsed buildings. A short ride in an SUV and you’ve arrived in Kampung Mulia. You walk past the shell of a mosque and up a small rock lined hill. A few more steps along the bank of a muddled river and you’re at a small shack built from mismatched, warped wood. Everything in this community was destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, but a couple families came together to build a coffee shop out of driftwood. Rupiah equal to about a quarter gets you a steaming cup of black coffee with a little sweetened condensed milk mixed in. It’s pure bliss, but the company makes it all the more better. Nurul approaches, excited to see you. You do what’s customary when you visit: you hand her your digital camera and away she goes. The pictures she and her friends take tell a story words can’t adequately tell.

These sweet girls are a part of my story and I was recently reminded of them. I just finished reading a new book by one of my heroes, Gary Haugen. “The Locust Effect” comes out tomorrow, and I was thrilled to be selected as part of a ‘launch team’ of bloggers to read and review the book. The book is incredible, and as I flipped the pages, engrossed in the stories and concepts laid out, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet girls. You see, this book reminded me that they are at risk.

Nurul and me, Kampung Mulia, Aceh Indonesia

Nurul and me, Kampung Mulia, Aceh Indonesia

My sweet friends Nancy, Parumsheela, and Nurul are a mere step away from becoming victims. They walk a delicate line in their communities of relative safety and extreme exploitation and victimization. Their families may be one small loan away from complete slavery. They could be one short walk to a well away from being raped.  Their lives were challenging but still so innocent when I met them. Even Nurul had innocence about her. She had lost everyone and everything in the Tsunami, but she still hoped. She still dreamed. She still loved to pose for pictures and play dress up. Parumsheela loved to play tag and jump to pop bubbles. Nancy could spend hours braiding my hair, wrestling with its unfamiliar texture and many knots.

After finishing The Locust Effect I feel even more inspired to action. I was reminded that while these girls are a mere step away from systemic violence, you and I are a million steps away from the painful stories of many who are just like them. We need to step closer to them. A million steps is too far, we need to walk alongside and take the journey with people around the world who are desperately poor, and desperately vulnerable. This post is just a teaser for the meat of the book. It comes out tomorrow, and this week I’ll be featuring it. My tweets and at least one more blog post will be dedicated to discussing the concepts and lessons I learned from the pages of  “The Locust Effect”. And, I’ll be giving a book away to one reader at the end of this week. So stay tuned my friends, let’s dive into discover how “the end of poverty requires the end of violence”.

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