The Long Walk Across the Red Sea

by Laura on May 9, 2014

 international move

Matt and I told each other several weeks ago, “It’ll be a miracle if we can get on that plane in six weeks.” An international move with a family of five is no small thing. Neither is moving an office and handing over the leadership-reins to a new manager. But, friends, we are five days out from boarding that plane and I’d say we’ve lived a bit of a miracle this last month.

We got into the International Christian school we wanted, after a truckload of paperwork was scanned and sent.

We found, hired, and trained a new VP of Operations to manage The Exodus Road home office from Colorado.

We secured a new office space in downtown Colorado Springs and organized the transition of our staff and systems.

We rented our current house to a precious family; we sold our van. We walked through several fundraising events and trips.

We’ve visited with our parents and clapped at recitals and bought new swimsuits. We’ve made goodwill runs and then more goodwill runs. We’ve packed boxes and ordered vitamins and cleaned out the garage and listed things on Craigslist.

And tomorrow, the cat is going to some dear friends for his new home, and armed with class cookies and teacher gifts, the kids went to their last day of school just this morning.

photocatAnd I seriously can’t believe it– the details that have come together in the last few weeks are nothing short of a miracle. It’s been a bit of a Red Sea experience that I’ve gotten front row seats to watch unfold.

But if I were honest, too, I’d say that the presence of miracles hasn’t meant the absence of hard work, emotional battles or mountains of stress. Because in the same breath we speak of the miraculous this past month, we’re living the struggle.

God parted the Red Sea, but the Israelites still had to walk the miles across it, after all. In the middle of the night. Dragging crying babies and stubborn cows. Bumping shoulders with 2 million or more other scared and tired former slaves. Wondering if the angry Egyptians would be on their heels or if those walls of water would come crashing down in the next five minutes– while they were still very much vulnerable.

That hike couldn’t have been a cake walk.

And I find some comfort in the thought of those Israelites, trudging over dry land in the middle of the sea. One foot in front of the other. Witness to the miracle unfolding each minute but at the same moment exhausted with the literal walking-out of it. 

We leave for Asia in five days, and there’s still a lot of ground to cover between now and then. And while I don’t expect to reach the other side relaxed and rested, I do expect the walls of water to keep holding with each step I trudge forward. 

Maybe both the parting and the walking are equal miracles.

******

Pray for us these last days? We’re both tender and tired. Movers get here at 8 am tomorrow morning. Pray especially for the hearts of our kids, friends and family. And thank you for being on this journey with us. We are grateful.

 

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god's curveball

It does seem that God operates out of left field with us. 

The curveball. The surprise. The bend in the road we didn’t expect. The plot twist we didn’t see coming. The baby we carried but couldn’t deliver. The job we planned for but someone else got offered. The house that dropped in our laps.

My mom says that sometimes it’s the line drives out of left field that shout loudest of divine intervention. I’m coming to agree with her.

As many of you know, we recently bought tickets for our family to go back to SE Asia for the summer (8 weeks) in an effort to cut down on Matt’s traveling during the year. Mid-may was (well, is) the flight. July 19th the return. Things would rock along here in our Colorado office until we got back.

Then, to our surprise, our landlord at The Exodus Road office didn’t renew our lease, letting us know we’d need to move the U.S. headquarters where we’d been working with a staff of six by June 1. Curveball One. 

We began making plans to move our family and the office down to Colorado Springs (about 20 minutes away from the small town we live in now), feeling that it would be a better place for overall thriving. We started the conversations with the kids. We listed our house. We made goodwill runs. We packed up the fondue pot.

Then, the real curveball out of left field. Matt got an offer for a position with key leaders in SE Asia to continue building collaboration among those in the anti-trafficking community –which, if you have followed along with The Exodus Road, you know is a heartbeat close to ours. The position, working with partners he’s already invested heavily in over the last several years, would be based out of Asia. It would require another international move, but it would allow him to still lead The Exodus Road from the field, which he’s desperately missed. It would also place The Exodus Road in a much stronger position for funding from several different sources.

Tricky part is that because of the plans and tickets we’d already made for our then-summer-only trip, our departure date to Asia needed to stay firm, regardless of when we’d be returning. That flight is in, oh, 23 days. 

Apparently, balls from left field can also be moving pretty fast. 

god's curveball

We’ve spent the last three weeks processing this thing to death. The kids, the transition, the benefits, the risks. We’ve prayed the hell out of it, too– for protection against fear and confusion and thinking-too-small-of-God. We’ve gone round in circles and landed in wildly different places; we’ve had a million dinner-time conversations with our kids. We’ve weighed the pros and cons and “coincidences.”

And, as it looks right now, after nearly two years in the mountains of Colorado, our family will soon be taking another crack at living overseas. (<– See what I did there?)

(Possibly) Dependent on our kids getting into the Christian school we’ve applied for (pray for that, would you?), we’ll be heading back to SE Asia this summer for a time (one year? two? more?).  We’ve had the privilege of building The Exodus Road from the States, building structure, funding, and momentum; now we get to go back to develop further the program from the field, deepening relationships with partners and writing better stories.

It’s thrilling and faith-stretching. It’s overwhelming and, I won’t lie, doubt-filled. It’s also  . . .  insanely busy. In fact, as it stands right now, we have 3 1/2 weeks to:

secure new office space, move and then set up the office, sell or rent our house, sell both cars, move our stuff into storage, hire a new Operations Manager for Exodus Road (know someone interested?), host two fundraising events already on the calendar, pack for an international move, find a rental house over in Asia to secure, leave our family and friends well (though we’ll be back at Christmas to visit), and care for our kids (and our own) tender hearts in the process.

I’ll be honest I’ve been fighting a panic attack or two.

But life doesn’t always go like you plan it. Curveballs come. The path takes a new direction. Opportunities arise. A move down a mountain becomes a move around the world. 

And the longer I walk with God (and maybe just the older I get, too), I’m learning that fleshing-out His design for your life might not be as much in having the plan figured out as it is responding well to those balls that come flying at you, completely out of left field. 

______

Pray for our family, if you think of us. Specifically, pray that if it’s God’s best, the kids would get into the school we’ve applied for. Also pray for the million-and-two details that need to happen in the next 23(!!!) days.

Moving forward, for security purposes, I’ll need to make some changes in how I engage in social media. I’ll consistently be saying SE Asia, instead of a particular city/country, and my personal facebook page and blog will begin looking a bit differently, too. Thanks for your understanding in these details.

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Bride and Divorce

by Laura on January 28, 2014

photo 2

If the Church is really the Bride, I’ll admit I’ve wanted a divorce for a few years now. 

She isn’t who I thought she was 20 years ago when I said, “I do.”  She hasn’t been kind, either –to the people outside of her club, to those who question or doubt, to me.

And, so, I’ve essentially lived in an off-again-on-again state of separation from this dysfunctional being that is the American Church for a solid two years now. She tells me I don’t look or act or think or believe rightly. She sells me a promise of community, and then sits me in a pew facing forward. She takes my money, but hides the Jesus I adore. And every time I muster the hope to try again, she disappoints. So like a scorned spouse, I’ve walked away from her power, her manipulation, her legalism. Her abuse.

But here’s the thing about the disgruntled and hurt partner whom I’ve become, sitting outside with arms crossed and denying the inherent good mixed with the ugly, I haven’t found life or hope or joy in that space either. I thought I’d divorce and walk away completely to find nobility and freedom, but instead what I’m finding is cynicism, bitterness and a tendency to cast the stones right back.

But here’s the thing– the person this potential divorce is hurting the most is  . . . me. 

Disbelief in the Bride’s redemption is leaving me lonely, prideful and self-righteous. Cynicism of her role to play in my own life and in bringing light to the world has left me with my back turned in the counselor’s chair–closed, hardened. Done.

And try as I might to excuse it, this posture doesn’t remind me of Jesus, either. I don’t get to love the world and hate the Bride. I don’t get to cast unconditional grace on other lovers but deny it to my own family. 

Because Jesus had this wild plan for the evolving beauty of His church, and he wants me part of it. And I can’t claim to follow him if I divorce the one he’s redeeming for Himself– not the institution or the doctrine, the method or the damage– but the idea of her, the vision of her. 

Following Christ might not mean living under the same old roof, the same old system with the Bride; perhaps periods of separation can be redemptive.

It does mean, however, leaving the lawyer’s office with the signature line intentionally left blank.

photo 1

“There is a song for my family, Outside the walls of Sunday Morning from some within.

This is a song to confess our sins, Lay it all out, and try to begin again.

To hope again. 

Please forgive our ignorance, In looking down on you, 

Please forgive our selfishness, For hiding in our pews while the world bleeds.

While the world needs us to be what we should be.

This is a song for my family who, Just can’t believe in the Jesus that you’ve seen on Sunday morning.

This is a song for the cynical saints, The burned out and hopeless.

The ones that we’ve cast away, I feel your pain.

Please forgive the wastefulness of all that we could be
But don’t forget, there’s more than this
Her beauty still exists
His bride is still alive

His bride is still alive.”

- Gungor, Song for My Family

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On an unrelated note, this post gave me a new sympathy for our heterosexual brothers who struggle with the imagery of Christ as the Groom. I get it now, guys, I get it.

Also, an earlier, unedited version of this accidentally got into my RSS feed yesterday- sorry about that. Ignore that one, and thanks for your internet-grace. 

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Is the Purpose of Missions KINGDOM or GOSPEL?

by Laura on January 21, 2014

missions

“It reminded me of other conversations we’ve had with many in the church-world who’ve said to us essentially, “Why save them from an earthly hell if you can’t save them from an eternal one?”

And I’ll be brutally honest, that type of thinking hurts. It hurts that Christians would so quickly write off justice if there’s no promise of the Romans Road. It hurts us personally, as we are bleeding out for this mission, but it mostly hurts for the girl behind the locked doors–the one who desperately needs brave, compassionate people to rise up on her behalf,regardless of her spiritual choices, past, present or future.

And I get that in missions there are church planters and evangelists and gospel-in-word-givers. And I’m not saying that missions can’t be that, but can’t it also be ushering in the Kingdom?”  

Please read the full post today, and the ensuing conversation, over at A Life Overseas.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 11.20.14 PM

Elementary school was a dream for me until the second grade.

In the second grade, a new girl named Wendy moved to town. She was cute with brown curly hair and she quickly set her sights on my best friend, Sarah.

What ensued over the next 259 days of the school year was not so good for little blonde-haired, love-the-world Laura Leigh (yes, I grew up in the South).

Wendy demanded that Sarah choose between the new and the old best friend. It was a declaration made on the playground, a line in the sand,  beside the literal sandbox– Sarah could not be friends with the both of us.  There were tears by the swings that day and then later party invitations without my name on them. Eventually, Wendy, in the logical wisdom of a seven year old, came up with a plan of altruistic compromise–Sarah could be best friends with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays but would ignore Wendy on those days. However, the alternating days of the week– Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays--I was the one by herself on the playground while Sarah and Wendy giggled and shared secrets.

I guess you could say I learned at a young age that jealously causes wreckage, that competition divides, and that the idea of “not enough” leaves everyone feeling the burden of scarcity.

Fast forward 25 years, and I find myself discouragingly in turf wars again–this time the landscape isn’t the playground, it’s the nonprofit sector.

We began working in the charity world about two years ago, and the longer we’re in it, the more cynicism we have to fight. We’ve had prominent leaders ignore or belittle us in conversation– we, the new kids on the nonprofit block. We’ve seen speakers position themselves and employees defend themselves, seen the ineffective groups market excellently while the real heroes go unsung. And we’ve watched with sadness as turf wars ensue– over donors or ideas or Facebook likes or that next dollar. We’ve seen people hold things tightly to their chests– methods or research or contacts.

You’d think we were in competition or something; I guess it’s a competition to out-good the next guy. 

Honestly, it’s like second grade all over again. We see and battle with a mentality of scarcity that drives ownership instead of open source, mine instead of ours, self-importance over the applause of the greater good. 

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 11.36.41 PM

We have a question that I’ve written before on the whiteboard at our home office and it is simply this, “What would a victim of trafficking want us to do?”

It’s funny how easy it is to forget that simple focus when you are launching and building and raising funds, and then raising some more funds, and then some more. But it’s a question that has to remain central to our thinking at The Exodus Road, and its the type of question that has to remain in focus for any nonprofit attempting to bring light into the world in a particular sphere.

Is it best for a girl trapped in sex slavery for us to share that trusted government contact with another field partner? Yes. Then we should do that.

Is it best for trafficked victims for the Western donor to understand the truth about certain organizations? Yes. Then we should tell them.

Would a sex slave care who rescues them or who gets the credit? No. Then we shouldn’t either.

The focal point must be the people we are serving– those girls behind the locked doors for us at Exodus Road right now. And the moment we start caring more about our brand, our fame, or our job security, is the moment we begin throwing other people and organizations under the bus in an attempt to position ourselves on top. It’s the moment we become like Wendy– competing for attention, marking territories, dividing friends.

And this is a mentality we all must fight tenaciously–both as leaders in the nonprofit sector and as donors or advocates for causes or faith-communities.

There is no scarcity of evil to fight in the world, but there’s also no scarcity of resources or people or passion to bring good, either. 

It’s an awfully big sandbox we find ourselves in. And there are a million different ways to play nicely in it. 

*******

*The second photo is evidence that my own children do not play nicely oftentimes on trips to the grocery store.  But, hey, their excuse is that they are literal children.

 

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The Manger Wasn’t Instagrammable

December 19, 2013
photok

The pressure to have the perfect Christmas looms large this time of year. I would assume, for most of us. We want to deliver the pumpkin bread tied in Martha Stewart bows and we want the kids to have matching socks (note the photo below)– at least for the Christmas concert. We want the deep [...]

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Beware the One-Dimensional Life

November 30, 2013
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Beware of the One-Dimensional Life. The seasons when your hours and conversations and energies become hostage to one dictator– however kind, noble or “right” he may be. The gravity of a one-dimensional life is a strong one. It plays balanced for a while, but eventually pulls every conversation into a vortex about itself.  Hopelessly one-sided, [...]

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The Mafia and Falling Asleep Anyway

October 9, 2013
aspens community

Perhaps I’m an adrenaline junkie. 15 months ago, my husband texted me, “I’m working a case involving the mafia.” And I can remember the holy ground that was my bedroom when I read that sentence on my computer screen; it was one of those late nights, after kids were in bed,  just me and Him. [...]

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In Which My Book Is Dirt-Cheap, and I Thank You

October 1, 2013
ER-BookCover_Concept7

They always said writing a book was like birthing a baby, and I was all eye-rolling-know-it-all: “It can’t be that bad. I mean, really. I’ve never seen anyone sweaty and screaming over a manuscript.” I remember with our first (real, actual, human, non-figurative) baby, I had much the same attitude. “I’m going all-natural. No big [...]

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How An Atheist Is Teaching Me To Live Like Jesus

June 25, 2013
Russians Walking Street

When we first put toes into the water of the counter-trafficking community in SE Asia, we expected the pool to be a crowed one. We’d read the stories from the internet, we’d seen the documentaries and we assumed that other people had this fight covered– especially as it related to the process of helping find [...]

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“Maybe We Should Just Give Up.” Or, Not.

June 17, 2013
“Maybe We Should Just Give Up.” Or, Not.

I feel all-apologies on this space of late. Let’s be honest, ever since we moved back to the United States my personal blogging platform has taken a hit. And while I do think it will pick back up eventually, for now, I am finding a new stride in pouring my words and social media nearly-ninja-skillz  [...]

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