Wednesday, February 23, 2011

elliptically challenged

I recently started working out again. We bought an elliptical months and months ago and I have had a love/hate relationship with it ever since. Although, I guess I'll be honest and say it's been mostly hate on my end. Here's the thing. I adore working out and being healthy and in shape. I've experienced what it's like to be in fantastic shape, and it's a glorious feeling.

The problem is not my desire to exercise. The problem is that my body has inner conflict in a big way. As in, my heart does not communicate productively with the rest of my body. Most of you (maybe) know that I have a something called Atrial Tachycardia. You can read a little bit about it here. I think my heart behaves the way a child does. Kids can be doing completely normal things, and then burst out running or screaming or wailing that they're dying at the drop of a hat. Most of the time, there's no real reason for it, and they probably don't foresee their own outbursts before they happen. They just go with what feels right in the moment. My heart is a child that cannot be tamed. Except with medication. Yikes. I don't know how this turned into a post about medicating hyperactive children. I have nothing to contribute to that discussion.

At any rate, I'm on medication that makes my heart chill the hell out so I'm not walking to my car and have a heart rate of 150 and feel like I'm going to pass out. That part is great. The bad part is that it makes doing anything where my heart rate should be higher really difficult. Like exercise. My heart rate is slowed so much that when I get cranking on my elliptical (with no elevation or resistance whatsoever, mind you), my heart doesn't pump fast enough to give my muscles and brain the oxygen they're wheezing for. Which gives me an enormous headache and results in 15-minute workouts that leave me exhausted. Lame.

This little dance has had me down in the dumps since July, when I found out my second heart procedure didn't work and that my Atrial Tachycardia may be a part of my life for good. My visions of marathons and hiking trips and walking up a flight of stairs without needing an oxygen tank seemed pretty impossible. Although, I suppose I could always invest in a stair lift. I've been really discouraged, and the last thing I've wanted to do is exercise.

But, I'm done having a pity party, and I'm done with "impossible." I'm not aiming for a marathon. Right now, I'm aiming for a half mile, a non-stop 30 minutes on the elliptical and a 20-minute bike ride with my husband. Once I meet those goals, we'll go from there. I loathe being someone who can't do what everyone else can do. I hate that I have to work so hard to do things that normal people don't have to think about, and I hate that I may never be able to some of the things I've dreamed about doing. But here I am, and I'm going to take myself to the extent of my ability. Help me. Don't let me quit!

Knowing the reason why things are hard really makes all the trying much easier. When I was growing up, I never understood why I couldn't do things that other kids could do. I didn't understand why I always came in DEAD LAST at track meets, and I felt like I would never make my long-distance-runner dad proud. (Which was crazy, I know.) It was really hard not to think that I was just not good enough or not trying hard enough or just not able. When I found out my complete lack of talent wasn't entirely to blame, it was a little relieving. Having a diagnosis is tangible, albeit still hard to hear. I've decided that my current complete lack of confidence won't be the thing that holds me back now. The only things that will hold me back are the things I can't control. Blam. It's happening. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the difference between boys and girls

It's simple really.

Girls:



Boys:


That's pretty much all there is to it, so I'll leave it at that. Today's lesson was brought to you by four days of cabin fever in the midst of the Texas Snowpocalypse 2011.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

my friends in the 'Hood

(This is a story I wrote for the Watermark News, for Watermark Community Church. I hope you will read and be encouraged by the stories of the people of South Dallas, our 'Hood.)

As a writer, I meet a lot of people and hear their stories of brokenness, strength and redemption. I’ve talked to orphans in Romania, single mothers in Juarez, Mexico, and homeless men and women in San Diego. Hearing their stories has, at times, left me reeling, struggling to even comprehend a life so different from my own. But these stories are lived out in faraway places. I don’t often get the chance to see the faces of my interviewees after our first meeting.

In the past weeks and months, I have heard stories every bit as challenging, heartbreaking and hopeful – just 12.5 miles from the doors of Watermark. Just beyond the boundaries of North Dallas, widely known for its affluence, are neighborhoods full of people fighting to survive. They aren’t far away. They are here. And I can see their faces and hear their fears, worries and victories.

---

South Dallas is what many might lovingly, or at times fearfully, call “The ‘Hood.” But for a group of men and women all over Dallas, it’s their ‘Hood.

At the hub of the urban ministry is Cornerstone Baptist Church, pastored by Chris Simmons for 22 years on I-45 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. On top of regular church services, Cornerstone is serving their community in a big way, offering a kitchen, shower and a clothing closet to meet physical needs, plus Bible studies, kids programs, mentoring programs and an academy for at-risk teens.

While Cornerstone is home base for many of the ministries offered in South Dallas, there are men and women from churches all over Dallas who seem to have dropped their church names and denominations at the door and are simply serving God’s people as the Church. Everyone is there for the same reason.

My first experience pretty well sums up my reception in the ‘Hood. I was meeting a group of ladies at the Mercedes CafĂ© on MLK and Ervay before they left for a weekend retreat. I flagged down Jennifer, a Watermark member who has made it her personal mission to love the people of South Dallas. Jennifer immediately said she had someone she wanted me to meet. When Diane walked over, Jennifer introduced me as her friend, but she was very quickly corrected.

“No, she’s our friend,” Diane said. And she hugged me like we were sisters.

Jennifer was shuffled off to work out car seating arrangements for the ladies going on the retreat. Every few minutes, she shouted the names of four or five women over the boisterous, chatty room. As she said their names and found their faces in the crowd, she smiled at each one, and then let out a loud, “C’mon!” with the twang of a southern mama.

Diane and I snuck out the door to talk. She told me her story, which, a few years ago, nearly ended, when she says she was beaten with a brick and left for dead in the streets – the streets just 12.5 miles from Watermark’s doors. She survived, and later met Jennifer and Billy, another Watermark member, on the steps outside the kitchen, where meals are served almost daily to the community. Diane was invited to the Thursday morning women’s Bible study, where she says her life began to change.

Diane says she is grateful for the people who have invested in her life. She remembers well that, even when she was struggling and landed herself in jail, the women leading the Bible study came to visit her.

“I’m humble,” she said. “They’re out here to help people to get to know God. And they’re getting through.”

---

Jennifer and her husband, Scott, serve together in South Dallas. They were dating when they started, and when they recently got married, their friends from the ‘Hood were all invited. Many had never been to a wedding.

Jennifer and Scott have served alongside people from Watermark and churches all over Dallas. They call Billy and his wife, Marty, their “fearless leaders.” They all felt the call to serve in South Dallas in different ways, but the purpose has been the same since the beginning: To meet people where they are, pick a person, and love them well.

“We don’t want to be a meal ticket, and they don’t want to be a project,” Jennifer says. “So we’ve agreed to just all be friends. It has to be a mutually beneficial, mutually respectful relationship.”

Jennifer says that spending time in the ‘Hood has opened her eyes to the realities of life in our city, right under our nose.

“It’s been hard because their life issues are not ours,” she says. “No one in our Bible studies or community groups at Watermark has ever come in crying and needing a shelter to escape domestic abuse. No one has come in, changed clothes and had a crack pipe fall out.”

While she sees the differences, Jennifer says that she has learned a lot about where these people are coming from. She is compassionate; seeing that the struggles they deal with are often the results of generational poverty.

“We’ve had so many opportunities in our lives, and families who loved us and so many educational opportunities,” she said. “It’s not a difference in the person, but in their opportunities and choices.”

Scott has been reminded again and again that what is needed most in South Dallas, right after the Gospel, is friendship. Even beyond relief efforts, he says that relationship is a more lasting and life-changing experience for people there; many who have experienced abandonment more than any of us would care to imagine.

“We’ve learned down there that you can’t just throw money at the problem. It’s relational,” he says. “It’s about finding that one person to build into. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the need down there and in the world in general, but I think change only happens down there life-on-life.”

And he is seeing that change in his friends.

Billy agrees and says that while spending time in South Dallas has been taxing at times, it has also been a life-changing process for him and his family as well.

Billy, his wife Marty, and their son are all investing in the people of South Dallas. And they believe in the hope of Christ for them, even when things are hard.

“You’re dealing with generational issues,” he said. “It’s tough and messy. But that one-on-one relationship is where you’re going to have a lasting impact.”

Ultimately, Billy is trying to stay focused on the most important needs of the people he wants to help.

“When you first look at South Dallas, you think of economic poverty,” he said. “That’s obvious. But you really have to bear down and see the poverty of the spirit, the poverty of the soul. I don’t care if it’s South Dallas or West Dallas or Highland Park or Fair Park, we all have poverty of the spirit and that’s where we really want to get to with our friends down there. We want to show them the love of Christ and give them hope. There is so much hopelessness as you look in their eyes. You just want to bring them hope that’s eternal.”

---

Diane says that, above all, these people are her friends.

“I met Billy at my weakest point,” she said. “I know I can count on him for anything. I’m just blessed to have friends. They don’t look at me for my flaws.”

I asked what people in the neighborhood think about people like Billy, Scott and Jennifer. They’re white. They don’t blend in.

Diane laughs, as if it that were a silly question. Maybe it was.

“Everybody loves them,” she says matter-of-factly. “They definitely stick out, but it doesn’t matter. We’re all friends.”

Just then, Jennifer bounds out of the restaurant letting me know there’s someone else I have to meet. Her friend – no, my friend – Bonita. As she walks toward me, I can already tell that she is a leader and a woman with a deep faith. And her smile puts me at ease.

I ask her to tell me her story, and I learn that Bonita is someone that her friends rely on and trust completely. Her life has been hard and sprinkled with times of addiction and poverty. But she is strong. She says the emotional and spiritual support she has been given has allowed her the strength to be an encouragement and help to other women.

Bonita has also been going to the women’s Bible study from the start. She says, like Diane, that the people who come into her neighborhood are welcome there.

“Everybody is everybody,” she said. “We don’t treat them differently and they don’t treat us differently. They’re family when they come down here.”

Scott says he feels more and more like family with every new friend and every new experience. He says the real story is not about what he and the others serving in South Dallas are doing.

“This is as much a story about God changing us as it is about South Dallas,” Scott says.

Jennifer agrees and says, “It’s not about us changing them. It’s not like we rode in on our white horse and brought revival. No. The Lord is changing us as we love them.”

Scott says that, at the core, people are not really different.

“I look at my friends down there, and we both battle fear and anxiety and struggle to be the men God calls us to be. I just had a few more advantages. Deep in our souls, it’s the same stuff,” he said.

---

Since the beginning of my research for this story, I’ve come to this neighborhood three times. My heart is stirred for the people that Christ came to save, and I can’t wait to go back.

Over and over in the Bible, Christ shared his heart for the poor and hurting. As I walk the streets of Dallas, His presence is there. He is not far from these people. And He is faithful to meet us in our flawed but faithful attempts to reach and care for them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

victims of the big game

I love football and chips and friends. And great commercials. That's why I love the Super Bowl and our American tradition to cram as many people and snacks into one living room as possible and to act as though we're all sitting on the 50-yard line with our faces painted. Shouting at the TV on a regular Sunday afternoon might get you in trouble, but not for this game. Anything goes.

I love it. All of it.

But this year, I learned what other tradition the Super Bowl kicks off (sorry) in this country. And it has nothing to do with snacks. It's a matter of life and death, actually; of freedom and slavery. The Super Bowl, and other large sporting events, will bring a huge influx of people in the sex industry. Some will be here by choice. Many will not. Many are children. They have been kidnapped, lied to and deceived and are now trapped in a life of slavery. They have been taken from all parts of this country and brought to our neighborhoods to meet an outrageous demand for sexual consumption.

It's already begun in Dallas. There is more buzz in the city with every bus that pulls into town. It's anticipated that events like the Super Bowl can increase the demand for human trafficking by almost 80%. Women and children are being brought into Dallas this week along with celebrity SWAG and NFL apparel, and they will be sold right along side them.

Texas is already a hub of sex trafficking. The presence of the Super Bowl will only multiply the risk. The following is an excerpt from an article on PR Newswire today:
Pimps often travel with their prostitutes to cities hosting large sporting events or conventions. Dallas police predict the Super Bowl could attract between 50,000 and 100,000 prostitutes.
Child welfare advocates and Texas law enforcement officials are working to assist the young victims and arrest the people who buy and sell them.
Young women and men, some under 18, are frequently shuttled from city to city, sold to have sex with sports fans and conventioneers. Uprooted and often completely isolated, the victims are seldom able to find a way out of their violent situations. Some are sent out to prostitution at the age of 11, and are estimated to have a life expectancy of just seven years after hitting the streets.
...
Homeless young people are particularly vulnerable to being lured into a life of prostitution by pimps who seek them out, offering new clothes, the promises of money, and, often, the illusion of a romantic relationship.
"Homeless kids are really vulnerable, because they have no support system," said Janette Scrozzo, who spent many years heading the outreach program at the Covenant House in Newark, N.J. "They just don't have the love and support of their families, so when they're out there all alone, all it took was just someone who was nice to them and lead them into a false sense of security. That's how all of the victims I worked with got lured and manipulated into this horrible world of trafficking." 
My point in all of this is not to ruin the big game, but to hopefully be a reminder that there is a world - a very dark world - that is happening right under our noses. But it's one that we may never see first hand. The most important thing you can do is to be aware. And tell other people what you know. There are a lot of organizations that are doing great work to give victims a voice. Support them. Get involved.

If you get a few minutes, read this local (D/FW) story about a woman who was forced into sexual slavery right here in North Texas. It's real and it's happening now.

This is a PSA for Traffick 911. They say that it is our call as Christians to stand up against slavery. I completely, 100% agree with that. Seeking justice for the oppressed is something very close to the heart of God. But it's not just something Christians should be concerned about, and I don't think it is something that only Christians are concerned about. This is a global, human problem. I hope you, whoever you are, will see that you can do something.



National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline: 1-888-3737-888