I’ve had a fire in my belly for two weeks now. But I’ve been sitting on my words. Because, to be honest, I’m pretty battle-weary.
My three-year-old and I battled a couple of nights ago – a war of will and lay-down-and-sleep at 1:30 in the morning – and I feel the aftermath in every part of me. I’ve had more hard conversations, more confrontations in these last weeks than I care to count. If you do it wrong, say it wrong, look it wrong, the world stands by ready to pounce. I want to tell the people, tell the world: we don’t act like this. We are better than this.
45-minutes had gone by, maybe an hour before he calmed down. Sometime later, the monitor-noise stilled and he was finally quiet in his room. I roll over in bed, check the camera one last time to make sure he’s finally asleep, that this has all been put to bed. It’s 3am, and the morning is coming up quickly, and I’m not sure I’m ready. The kids will wake up soon needing more of me, the headlines will rage, social media battles will continue with more of the same.
I lay there awake like that for another hour or so I’m not sure, thinking about how things are. Rehashing conversations. Wondering how we all got so on-edge, so ready to fight. Wondering how to not avoid my quiet times because He rustles up words that ruffle up feathers and I’d rather not speak so I do not dig.
“Do I deactivate the world, turn off the noise, go back into my bubble and pick my battles?” I pondered the thought in the middle of the night stillness. “Or, do I bravely keep showing up for the fight and write that blog post I’ve been sitting on for over a week?”
“I’m not sure,” I thought. “I’ll decide in the morning after I’ve had a couple more hours of sleep and some coffee.” But my morning caffeine didn’t bring much clarity. And I’m still battle-weary.
But His Spirit stirred. So I put on a cartoon for the them and dig up His Spirit-words for me and beg for discernment on when to be quiet and when to speak and not worry so much about what other people think. Because, these days? Someone is always going to be mad about something.
* * *
Two weeks ago, I put up a Facebook post regarding a recent theory in the realm of child sex trafficking. I expected it to be controversial. But I didn’t expect to be told I was actually helping the pedophile perpetrators by saying out loud for anyone to hear: “yes, I absolutely believe this is happening.” And the last thing I expected was to be told that I was doing Satan’s work for him.
The comments blew up in a fire of fury. Really, there were only a small few that were decrying the danger of my words. But isn’t it always the few bad apples that stick with you? Anyway, long story short, it took a couple of days to realize: Satan’s ticked. Because light was starting to shine into the very dark and very evil and very real world that is so much bigger than we can possibly begin to imagine. And one thing is for sure: Satan won’t go down without a fight.
A few days went by, I let the post sit, said my last piece. But the war of words really affected me. It made me understand why so many people are leaving social media in droves, or at least just quietly scrolling through, not saying a thing. Because, really, who wants to engage in a controversial conversation that is sure to turn sour? I was surprised at the number of people who messaged me privately, texted me personally, to shake their heads and agree.
More days went by, and I kept digging. Kept reading. Kept looking this evil square in the eye, trying to figure out why people were more fired up about whether or not a theory on the manner in which these children are being sold for sex was more important than the actual point: that these children are being sold for sex.
Here are the facts:
1. There are 30 to 50 million reports of online users trading child sexual abuse material every day. (source)
2. The most shared child abuse file is currently being seen on over 2.5 million unique IP addresses. Right now. As you read these words. (source)
3. Reports of child sexual exploitation activity to cyber tip hotlines have gone up by an average of 30 percent globally since COVID shut the world down (source).
There are two global pandemics happening right now. The first, everyone is talking about. It’s posted on the door of every store you go into, at the top of every news media website you visit and you can’t scroll long without seeing some reference to it. At the same time as this pandemic, our nation is loudly lamenting its history of slavery. I find it so interesting that they are both happening at the same time because there is also
a pandemic of pedophilia
And it’s causing a new kind of modern slavery that it’s time we start raising our voices over.
* * *
I’ve cried a lot of tears these last two weeks.
I’ve cried since the impossible-to-stomach reality of child sex trafficking first stared me right in the face. It’s not new information by any means, but it’s new to me because it was a topic I couldn’t even bear to consider during our ten long waiting years for our babes. I couldn’t go to the place of acknowledging that countless children were being kidnapped and/or sold into the commercial sex trade industry (some by their own parents) when I stood by, a woman with empty arms begging God for babies of my own to love, unable to get pregnant. But now? I can’t ignore it.
Most of my deeper-digging and research-doing and story-reading has been done while I feed my five-month-old, the tears rolling down my face as I read of some children as young as her, the most vulnerable and helpless and voiceless … being victimized. I read one article about a six-month-old baby, sold by her own parents, texted it to my sister with an “I can’t” and a couple 🤮 🤮. and a whole lot of 😭 😭 😭 and took a nap. Three hours later, I was clearing some gravel in our backyard and got to thinking about it again and stopped in my gravel tracks to cry into the shovel handle. And then? The waterfall of words began.
That night after dinner, I wiped the counter, the words continued.
I swept the floor, they still didn’t stop.
They had been flowing for five hours, a near-constant commentary in my mind. Normally, I would stop what I was doing, open a new note on my phone, grab the laptop, pound them out. But too much was on the line. This topic too important and too surprisingly heated to go about my normal writing routine, which is always a stream-of-consciousness, only ever re-read once, hardly ever edited for content, most always posted immediately. And also, the last time I talked about it, I got publicly reprimanded. So, I’m leery. But then I wonder: When did it stop being ok to ask questions?
When did it become dangerous to consider a piece of information and form your own opinion?
When did saying “wait a minute, this sounds plausible to me” suddenly label you a conspiracy theorist?
I stoop over to sweep the crumbs from the day into the dustpan and see a picture of a straining stopper stuffed into the drain of a kitchen sink. And I whispered the words: Strain my words, God. Spirit-strain them so that whatever’s leftover tomorrow what I sit down to write – they are the ones You want me to speak. Strain them, God. Because, no matter what happens, I will not let Satan restrain them.
Once the babes are all tucked in bed, and I go outside to roll up the bounce house and squat down to cry over the mother who wanders into her child’s room now sitting empty, and the child who just wants to be a kid again. I sweep the dirt off the paver path, move the buckets with the drilled-hole bottoms out of the way of the nightly sprinklers, set aside to sift more dirt out of rock tomorrow.
Sift.. maybe that’s a better word, I thought. God, sift my words.
And the Spirit whispers. No, you heard Me right the first time. Strain.
I think of the verse with God’s still, small voice and feel the strain to hear it. The crowd is angry right now. A lot of people are at their wit’s end with a weariness of their own, feeling caged up from quarantine and lashing out at the first person who looks at them cross-eyed. The tumult is loud and tense and I have to strain to hear God’s voice. To make sure I’m writing in obedience and not just keyboard-crusading – checking my heart against the things that have been spoken against me.
And, as I do, I know: I can’t let other people make me feel crazy for questioning very questionable things. And I can’t get offended if someone calls me a conspiracy theorist. I’m pretty sure John would’ve been labeled a conspiracy theorist if he was a modern-day preacher sharing his revelations for the first time. I’m pretty sure everyone thought he was crazy then, too. But he had to follow his convictions, to not restrain his words. Because when God said, “Write” in Revelation 1:19? He wrote.
A day or two later, I sat down in the early morning quiet, opened my Bible, pulled the ribbon over from its place in my prayer journal, picked up my pen … and sat there. For 15 minutes, I sat there. Not knowing where to start. The pandemic, the racial justice, the politics, the trafficking … it’s a lot to think about. And I don’t know where to begin, except for Your still, small voice amid the deafening headlines and social media policing and real, hard conversations about really big and scary things. So, LORD, that is where I will begin. Please, God, I prayed, meet me here.
I found the words in 1 Kings 19:11-12, when God told Elijah to stand on the mountain. before Him. They are similar words to what He spoke to Moses back in Exodus – just before He allowed His goodness-glory to pass by. He did the same with Elijah. And before the presence of God? There was a great, strong wind. But He wasn’t in the wind. And then, an earthquake. But He wasn’t in the earthquake. And then, a fire. But He wasn’t in the fire. And then? Then, there was that still, small voice.
God, I feel engulfed in something cavernously bigger than me, I wrote on my prayer journal page. I’m wondering what’s the point in even trying to read? Of trying to make sense of something that is incomprehensible. This is too big and too controversial and it makes me want to just … stay quiet. But why give me these words and this platform if I don’t talk about the hard things?
Two hours later, we went to church. Admittedly, I didn’t hear much of it as we sat outside with two toddlers running around begging for snacks and toys and entertainment and a five-month-old needing her morning nap. But there was one snippet of a morning prayer that I did catch – about a dozen words that pierced through the distraction in a crystal clear, “don’t miss this” kind of way:
forgive me for being quiet when You’ve asked me to speak
I tucked it away, pondered the continued Spirit-conversation from where I left off that morning. But still, I struggled to write. Because the words written in response to that now week-old Facebook post still rang loudly in my ear: that I have fallen for a conspiracy theory. That I am not only engaging in sin and doing Satan’s work for him, but I am also engaging in the behavior of those who hate God. That I embracing the demonic.
Yeah. That would make anyone want to stop using their voice.
I wrestled through it with God again, on another morning, still stifling my words. I’m stuck. Small. Voiceless. Like, really, what IS the point? Evil will still reign until You come back. So, why raise my voice? Why stick my neck out there? And then, His Spirit whispered:
because praying words go out as tongues of fire
I put down my pen, look up the phrase, find it in Acts 2. It was the Day of Pentecost and the disciples (all 120 of them) were gathered together in one place. The story picks up right there in verse 1: “And suddenly, there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then, there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
And then, a cross-reference to Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke … with boldness.”
I started with His presence in that still, small voice and not the wind or the earthquake or the fire. And then, I came to this other, entirely unrelated section and see: the wind, the fire, and the earthquake. His goodness isn’t in those natural disasters, but He uses the power of them to accomplish His Spirit-propelled purposes – just like He did with those Exodus-plagues.
And then, one more earthquake, one last cross-reference – this time in Acts 16:25-26: “At midnight, Paul and Silas were praying in prison … and there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all of the doors were opened and everyone’s chains loosed.”
That night, at about 2am, I was thinking about the tongues of fire and the fire going out before God and the fire with which Satan came after me as I shone light into his dark playground of pedophilia and sex trafficking when it hit me – the point of all of this:
because you fight fire with fire
You fight hell-fire flames with tongues afire with intercessory prayer words. One person might say: “Don’t tell me you care if all you’re doing is posting on Facebook.” And to that, I say: the currency of words is quite possibly one of the most powerful forces we have.
A few hours later, God shouted the confirmation from the rooftops as I drank my morning coffee and read some morning words. “Especially when the world is on fire,” Ann Voskamp wrote, “what it directly needs is more hearts on fire for God’s – because you fight fire with fire.”
* * *
Last night, all the babes were in their beds and I collapsed onto mine. Josh sat in the rocking chair in the corner, and started watching a speech Blake Lively gave for Child Rescue Coalition back in 2017 – a video I had watched days earlier. Instantly, the tears began rolling down my face. And I suddenly knew: I can’t sit on this any longer.
Sure, Satan is mad that light is starting to shine in his dark and depraved playground. But guess what? I’m mad too. And then I thought of Psalm 18. And remembered: God gets mad too. It was a psalm I used to read in the darkest part of the night back during a period of time when I was having a string of demonic nightmares at night. The kind I would wake up sweating from. I would open my Bible to that part of the psalms and read about God coming down from heaven with smoke out of His nose to rescue His people. I grabbed my Bible, read the psalm anew. And guess what I found?
There is earthquake. And there is wind. And there is fire. And the channels of the sea were seen and the foundations of the world were laid bare. Just like the foundations of that prison shook when Paul and Silas prayed and all the doors were opened and everyone’s shackles were unfastened. But here’s the difference with those verses and these trafficked and exploited kids: in Psalm 18 and Acts 16, the stories are of God responding to His people praying on their own behalf. I would venture to guess a good many of the children caught up in this don’t know to pray or don’t know how to pray. And many of them are too young to even know how to talk.
we have to be their voice
Regardless of what you believe about particular theories, child sex trafficking is not a conspiracy. And it is not political. It is a real-life horror that we need to be brave enough to stare in the face and do what we can to help – whether it’s:
• writing letters to legislators
• volunteering to put Freedom Stickers in bathroom stalls (which is often the only time trafficked children are alone) with In Our Backyard
• offering your unique gifts and services to local organizations (for example: my twin sister is a yoga instructor trained in trauma awareness and has offered to teach classes through StreetlightUSA as they transition adolescent girls out of trafficking and back to healing)
• following organizations neck-deep in the fight to be in the know (like Child Rescue Coalition and Operation Underground Railroad)
• donating financially when you can
• use your currency of words to get the conversation started
• use your voice to pray (and keep praying) Because, at the name of Jesus, every knee must bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue frankly and openly confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11, AMPC)
Friends, we are staring evil in the face, and it’s been hiding here in plain sight. And so, I do the only thing I know to do in this kind of helpless moment. I pray. All throughout the day these last two weeks, I have found myself whispering the name of Jesus under my breath in active belief that at His name, those demon-knees must bow. And, if only for a moment, maybe a child can get a reprieve.
I have had a near-constant prayer running through my mind and whispered on my lips for days now, and would love to have you steal my prayer. Because we have to fight fire with fire. Because when those disciples prayed in Acts 4, the place where they were assembled was shaken. And when Paul and Silas prayed, the foundations of their prison were shaken. And when David prayed, God heard his cry and the foundations of the mountain trembled and were moved and shaken because He was indignant and angry (Psalm 18:15, AMPC). And He came to David’s rescue.
steal this prayer
Oh, LORD, I am wrecked – for these children experiencing enslavement so atrocious that it cannot be quantified. For their parents who are walking around a grieving and hollow shell of themselves without their children. God, would you hold them, child and parent both, in the hollow of Your hallowed hand? That, somehow, the children would be able to separate themselves from the harrow of their reality. And their parents who do not know where they have gone or who they are with would not shrivel away in the choppy sea of “what-if” and “if only” – especially in light of this impossible to stomach story.
It’s no accident that this conversation is starting up anew in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s also no accident that it has been a disease from which children have been relatively unaffected. So, God, I pray that the new and most fervent and most deadly COVID hot spot would be where those children are and that they would be tucked up inside of an immunity bubble where the virus can not touch them. I pray that the men and women who are involved in the trafficking of children for the commercial sex trade, whether physically or administratively, would be wrecked by this virus. That it would incapacitate them for months, as we have seen it can, to give the organizations and people desperately searching for these children time to catch up and get to them. God, I ask for an Exodus-sized COVID-plague to engulf the perpetrators of this sex trafficking ring, in Jesus’ name.
I ask for hospitalization-level sickness from COVID for the perpetrators of the trafficking and for the people creating, consuming, and distributing child pornography. And God, I pray that they are ill enough to require hospitalization, but not ventilated. I pray that the drugs will make them talk and not realize what they are saying. I pray that they will speak unspeakable things about the images and videos they are viewing, the children they are abusing, and the people they are working with. And I pray that the doctors and nurses who are charged with their care will catch the confessions and under-the-breath utterances and have the discernment to realize something isn’t right.
God, I pray that the very foundations of the child pornography and sex trafficking industries would be shaken. That the doors would be opened. That these babes would find their freedom.
But most of all, I beg: God, have mercy. Give men and women fighting for these children the wisdom to unmask this ring in its entirety, all the way down to its roots. Give them the fire inside to not quit, to fight fire with that fire, to spend hours digging and searching and following the dark internet trails. I pray that the people behind this and every other sex trafficking ring would make mistakes. That they would slip up. That their sin would find them out so that we can find them out and find these children.
God… have mercy. Be with those babes. Give them dreams at night of safety. Give them dreams that show, in vivid detail, that they are being desperately searched for. And, when they wake up in the morning, may they be met with unwavering hope and incontrovertible peace that it is true, and not despair that it was just a dream. Please, Lord, move in Old Testament kind of dramatic fashion on behalf of these children. In Jesus’ name. Amen.