It feels awful to be demeaned & accused...
The selfless organization run by Tim Ballard, Operation Underground Railroad, wanted to help my community after our toddler's brush with child sex trafficking in our local grocery store. They boarded a plane from Utah to Texas and word had gotten out those several weeks. Nearly three months later, one of the largest local churches asked me to be a guest speaker and inquired about showing O.U.R’s film, The Abolitionists, now for a second time.
I had no idea what to expect the first time I saw the film and wondered if my “mom heart” could handle it. While it had sad parts, I felt entirely comfortable saying “yes” to showing the film to a wider audience the second time around. Since the film primarily raised awareness about the trafficking epidemic and showcased the triumphant efforts of O.U.R. and our new friend Bear (who played such a big role in the aftermath - see #UnraveledBook), I was exceedingly happy to have an opportunity to reciprocate the support they showed our community.
Two days before the big event, perfectly timed, I received a phone call from who I deemed "the leading expert on trafficking in East Texas". Listening to the voicemail, I knew exactly who this woman was. This was the same organization I had reached out to right after my grocery store incident, and despite the fact that three months had passed, I was happy to hear from her. The fear of what could have happened to my daughter was still very real, and I was excited to confide in an expert. She was a mom, knew the area like I did, had the same frame of reference I did, and I was told she loved Jesus just like I did. I needed that woman just to simply tell me to stay focused, fight the good fight, and press into God’s plan.
I was so grateful she called that I went right into sharing. I didn’t mind that she heard me fighting back tears. I figured she understood and would be a safe place to share my maternal heart.
“Hi. Thank you so much for calling me. I have really been looking forward to speaking with you.” I continued. “You probably know by now why I reached out. My daughter was taken from my arms by a stranger in a thwarted sex trafficking abduction in February.” I explained how uncertain and uncomfortable all this made me feel and paused with a little mental drumroll as I awaited her coveted response. Very unempathetic came a most stoic line.
“Well, what did the police say about all this?”
Not exactly what I anticipated to hear after I got choked up telling my story. It didn’t take me long to realize she knew exactly the struggle O.U.R and I had had with local police accepting help, supporting, or even sympathizing with the situation. But, she wanted both of us to hear my condemnation come from my very own mouth. Her words were cruel but so smooth, so much so that it took me a second to read between the lines. “Well, some people tend to exaggerate because they think trafficking happens like it does in a Liam Neeson movie.”
I was clearly “some people.”
In confusion, I challenged some of her thoughts with the truth of what O.U.R. had shared with me. I thought we were all on the same team—the children’s team. She demeaned the practices of O.U.R, but she could have been talking about any organization, really. What I truly heard was her making known she wanted to maintain her position as the East Texas authority on sex trafficking. Unflinchingly, she told me her board agreed that citing their organization in my Facebook post three months earlier, along with the ongoing publicity showing affiliation with me, would cause damning effects to her organization. To take the bait and ask “why” would have been me willingly welcoming more spiteful digs. And, to ask why she hadn't called earlier would only prove to me what I already knew.
I couldn’t believe my ears, yet I refused to defend myself. I decided I probably just needed to get off this call, so I thanked her for her time and removed her organization from my post.
The next day, I received another call from a young lady who claimed to be an attorney from Dallas. She was calling to forbid me from speaking at tomorrow’s large church event with O.U.R. Yes, forbid. I thought this was pretty serious, so I listened intently to what she had to say. She wanted me to believe a lie. She wanted me to fear. The more I heard, the more I became angry. Jesus never sinned in His anger towards others. Did you ever notice how He did respond? Jesus asked questions. Go all through the Gospels and you will see this. The religious leaders of the day put Jesus on the spot every chance they got. And even when they didn’t, Jesus read their thoughts and still responded the same way: with questions.
And the Pharisees having been assembled together, Jesus questioned them. – Matthew 22:41, BLB
So, I began questioning her, “I see. And which client do you represent that caused you to reach out to me?” Lawyers usually know what to say, but I had taken her a little off guard. She eventually said, “I cannot disclose that.” She had forgotten that she already told me the city she had been in—the same city of the leading trafficking authority in East Texas, the same woman I had spoken with just one day before. I asked a few more questions that led to more dumbfounded responses. Finally, I revealed where my leading questions were driving us, “I am sure your client told you that I spoke with her yesterday. I am not sure why you think you can call me and forbid me to speak at my own event tomorrow night.” Silence. “Please don’t ever call this number again.” I hung up.
There is a reason God led me to that organization initially. I have no regrets in providing them the extraordinary publicity other organizations were desperately requesting in those three months. In fact, I pray incredible blessing on that woman’s ministry, because the people she is helping need her. I just needed her that day, too.
I share these stories to give you memorable pegs on which to hang these truths. What I’m going to tell you is exactly what I needed to hear.
Act in Faithful Obedience
Most often, even those who claim the name of Christ—your brothers and sisters, maybe even with great intentions— don’t know God’s will for you like God knows God’s will for you. Follow only Him. Act in faithful obedience. It sounds so simple, yet we can live like it’s not true. Under the guise of seeking wise council, we Christians can open our ears to anyone willing to be our "expert". I have done it myself. When you are sure He has given you His next steps, that is what you act on. There came a point in my journey where I had to ask myself if my actions were true to what God told me to do or to the feelings others deposited in my head. When I couldn’t seem to make a decision without man’s input or approval, when I made “wise counsel” a necessity, I had unintentionally prioritized approval before God. And when others’ approval didn’t follow my prayerful decisions, I became anxious. God must win out every time. The One who orchestrates the future is the only One who can guide us through it. This is frightening, but so is faith. The Bible would be half its size if the characters quit their God-given assignments when an objecting opinion arose. As a recovering people-pleaser, I know how hard it is to embrace the piece of your humanity that cares deeply for people while willing yourself to be ok with their hurt when God’s agenda doesn’t align with theirs. Oh, it is tough, I know. But we can’t fear or second guess what we know to be right when God has already clearly shown us. When the way isn’t clear just yet, we can’t be so afraid of making a mistake. Unless God had told you to “wait” (which is in fact a direction), you move forward.
Believers who are earnestly seeking God can’t make a “bad” decision. Think about that. We are not so great and God is not so small that our well-intentioned actions could interrupt His omnipotent plan. We would be no better than Job’s friends if we believed bad outcomes must mean our God-fearing hearts should have just “made a better decision.” He can and wants to meet us, even in the messes. God works everything for His glory and for our good. And though undeserved, His grace can even cover us when we know we aren’t being wise. Hopefully, we autocorrect quickly, but the point is to seek Him first, and all these things shall be added to us. We don’t worry, we run the race, we press on (Matthew 6:33-34). We cannot live with a Bible open on our lap and the Holy Spirit in our person, just waiting on answers. We have all we need. We cannot live paralyzed by fear. Fear debilitates us from doing truly great things in this life because it scares us out of what God has called us into. Can you imagine not fulfilling what you were called to, simply because of your fear? Or better yet, can you imagine fulfilling what you’ve been built for because of your faith?
Forgive Those in the Way
Second to faith is forgiveness. Forgiveness and restoration are different. Restoration means both parties come together, whereas forgiveness is an act we do all on our own. Forgiveness is always the first step to healthiness, and it precedes restoration. How would you define forgiveness? In other words, how would you explain to someone how to perform it? This question was posed in a small group one night, and all my years as a Christian didn’t prepare me for what to say should someone have called on me. Someone else asked how you forgive when your adversary has passed away. I didn’t know that answer either. The discussion I was listening to faded out and I pondered. I realized I didn’t fully understand how to forgive. I had been defining it as restoration and expecting a mutual agreement had to take place in order to fulfill God’s command to forgive. Considering the death of the other party blew big holes in my ideology, however. I knew God didn’t command the impossible from us, so forgiveness had to be something I could do despite the other person’s level of willingness. Forgiveness is simply a private transaction of release as I look to God instead of others. Forgiveness is finally letting go of what we never wanted in the first place. It’s easier to jump there intellectually, yet it can be so difficult for our hearts. Restoration means our relationship is in right standing with the other party, while forgiveness means our heart is in right standing. The distinction is important because we are the only ones affected by unforgiveness.
The analogy we have probably all heard of, drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, now really clicked for me. I needed the freedom that came from forgiveness. I confessed to the Lord how bitter I was about being demeaned. The police, Snopes, the comments, and those women aggravated every insecurity I had towards myself and God’s ability, and I was the only one losing. I was embittered that we couldn’t just work alongside one another for the common good of these children, and I had allowed that bitterness to take root in my heart. Bitterness led to anger, and I needed my spiritual health restored. I asked God to forgive me so that I might provide forgiveness.
Then, in a beautiful exchange, I offered, one by one, each name and scenario that led to my bitterness and anger. I had a deep realization driving in my car one day that His grace—the grace that God lavished on me and I am to lavish on others so they can know Him—could be extended only when someone acted towards me in a way that required grace as a response. In other words, I can’t show grace without an opportunity, so I would have to endure something first. Driving, I began to take hold of this truth: the backlash I experienced created opportunities to show grace. Knowing Christ loved and forgave me when I didn’t deserve it made grace easier to extend. I willed myself to hand off the bitterness and not look back. And, God’s instruction to forgive someone seventy times seven was because He knew the Enemy’s tactic to draw us back into what we’ve already laid down. So, every time a painful word or memory crossed my mind, every time the face of the traffickers came back, every time the anger I had towards those involved in injustice returned, I’d lay it down and forgive again, and again, and again—like Christ continually forgives me. To forgive, I didn’t need to first restore any relationships, I didn’t need to justify myself, and I didn’t need to seek retribution. I settled into the calm forgiveness brought to my own heart before proceeding with anything else. The truth of faith and forgiveness were so evident that the lie of fear was easy to determine. I have figured it out. Fear is not truth. Fear is a lie.