Last year at this time: sovereign grace behind the scenes

The babies will be 11 months old this weekend, and the closer their birthday gets, the more I have flashbacks to this time last year, my last (huge!) month of pregnancy and the girls’ birth.

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And a funny thing has been happening– such a thing of grace. The babies’ birth wasn’t exactly a sweet and simple process. The first two weeks were perhaps the hardest weeks of my life, and for a long time, just the thought of a hospital room made my stomach ball up in knots. But recently, I’ve looked back on those days with a tenderness and thankfulness that could only come from God.

At the time, those days felt endless. I functioned on less sleep than I thought was possible, and shuffled painfully down the long hallway between mine and Catalina’s room in the postpartum wing and Lucy’s little NICU room more times than I could count.  This was not how I had expected things to go, and not how I thought a NICU stay would feel. We were separated, I was pumping for Lucy and struggling to nurse Catalina, and no one could offer a timeline for when we’d be home together.

I knew in my head that God’s will is always perfect and that He was lovingly sovereign over our situation, but I felt distant from Him, and even that took me by surprise. There were many moments of deepest joy– I had my babies, after all! I soaked in every new baby smell and grunt and cuddle. My family was there, and friends were eager to help us.  But I was often sad, exhausted, and a little ashamed of not being more cheery. I wished I was peacefully waiting on the Lord and enjoying my babies, NICU or no NICU. I wished I felt like He was working out everything for our good, but I was seeing the short-term and I couldn’t stretch my gaze any further.

But now when I look back, I see how the Lord’s steadfast love was covering us as He promised. Unlike so many NICU babies, Lucy was just a “feeder and grower,” and I could leave her room expecting her to be safe and healthy when I came back. There were so many fun and sweet family moments, and I’m so thankful Catalina was with me and not with her sister. And only a miracle could have kept me going on two 45-minute snatches of sleep every night! We made it out of there in less than two weeks and began life at home as a family of four.

As Lucy and Catalina’s birthday approaches, I’m celebrating more than just their first year of life. I’m celebrating things my hugely pregnant self didn’t dream I’d learn soon. A kind of trust that comes only from experience. I may not have been worshiping then, but every time I look back now, I can’t help but praise God from whom all those blessings flowed, even when I couldn’t yet see them.

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be the change (giveaway: the locust effect).

Michal Conger:

“The Locust Effect is not for the faint of heart– but it is for the hopeful of heart.” Reblogging these beautiful words from a fellow Locust Effect launch team member. Thank you, Cara!

Originally posted on be, mama. be (cara meredith):

I’ve perused my fair share of required texts in my lifetime: an English major in college (and later English teacher in life), and then a theology major in grad school, let’s just say I never lacked for want of a book to read.  And now that school isn’t a part of my everyday, when I pick up a book, I don’t necessarily want my brain to hurt.  I want my eyes to relax in wonder at the words before them, and I want to give my imagination time and space to soar.  

So, for the most part, I delight in the fancies of fiction; I become enveloped in the stories of that delightful Anne of Green Gables, and I wonder bemusedly at the lives of Sue Monk Kidd’s created characters in The Invention of Wings.  My fingers leap over the pages of various memoir writers, and I…

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The Locust Effect– and a Giveaway!

This is a little longer than usual, but bear with me– I promise it’s worth it. And there’s a giveaway at the end!

At a rock quarry near Chennai, India a few years ago, a man named Gopinath and his wife spent long days breaking boulders into gravel, working desperately to pay off a “debt” to the owner of the quarry. But no matter how hard they worked, they could never earn enough back from him to pay off their debt. Most of their money went to buying food from him, and they weren’t allowed to leave the quarry– not to get food, not to make more money. Gopinath and his wife eventually learned they were, in fact, actual modern-day slaves.

Nearby was a subsidized school where Gopinath’s children were never allowed to go, and a hospital set up to treat poor families like his, that he and his wife weren’t allowed to go to. As for going to the police, another rock quarry slave put it this way:

“We don’t have to go to the police. The owner pays the police to come to us– to beat us.”

I don’t write much about work, so you may not know that I’ve written pretty often about international aid. Our government pours billions of dollars each year into every kind of program imaginable– schools, wells, crop programs, trainings for farmers, even programs to increase citizen involvement in local and regional government. All really good ideas. And so often, they don’t work.

I don’t mean that as a political statement. I really wish that money worked the way it was intended to. But report after report and anecdote after anecdote shows much of the time, there’s a hitch in the program. The story of the slaves in India is just one example of this, but it is a powerful illustration of why our aid money is not getting at the root of the problem of poverty and injustice. As I cover stories like these, it breaks my heart.

You probably do know my love for International Justice Mission and their work of bringing rescue, justice and restoration to the oppressed and enslaved– often the very people these aid programs are supposed to help.

A new book (it came out today!!) by IJM President Gary Haugen and federal prosecutor Victor Boutros so powerfully addresses this gap between aid money and actual change that has been weighing on my heart since I first started writing about the topic.

The book is called The Locust Effect, named after the biggest plague of locusts in American history, which in 1875 destroyed the livelihoods of the families who had settled the midwest. They ate all the crops– even ate the wool off of sheep as they went. The “plague of everyday violence,” Haugen and Boutros argue, is much like that swarm of locusts: no matter how hard a family has worked or how much aid has been poured into their village, it can’t stop the violence that takes all of that away, often irreparably.

Much of the book is heartbreaking. The bottom line: Justice systems in the developing world are paid by the rich to protect the rich and ignore the poor. Protection by police and judges costs more than the poor have. As a result, bonded labor (modern slavery), police brutality, unjust imprisonment, land seizure, sex trafficking and sexual violence rob them of their livelihoods without anyone to answer a 9-1-1 phone call. And 4 billion people in the world live under these broken and corrupt justice systems.

These are heavy stories. They can be crushing. In so many, there is no happy ending. It’s not an easy read.

But near the end, hope comes in. They talk about how it is possible to build better justice systems that protect their people instead of oppressing them — and it has been done. One example is in Cebu, Philippines, where after four years of IJM partnering with local law enforcement to fix a broken justice system, the availability of children sold for sex dropped 79%. That is real hope.

If this tugs at your heart in any way, I so encourage you to read the book. It needs to get out there. We need to change how we do aid and justice so that we get at the root of the problem and actually save the poor from their poverty.

The giveaway: The awesome part of that? IJM has allowed me to give a copy of the book away to one commenter at random. Leave a comment below and at the end of the week, I will choose someone to receive a copy of The Locust Effect. No strings attached; you don’t have to write about it or anything, although I’d love if you chose to. Just read it and allow these stories to stir your soul.

During this week, the book’s launch week, a generous friend of IJM will give $20 to IJM for every copy of the book sold. So spending $20 on the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble is equivalent to giving $20 directly to IJM to help fight violence against the poor.

This would fund eight IJM rescue operations and rescue hundreds.

All author royalties go to IJM’s work as well.

Amazon is already temporarily sold out (wohoo!), so try Barnes and Noble. They are carrying the book in many of their actual stores, so if you’re near one, you can get it there or online.

As long as this blog post is, I only just gave you a snippet of the book. There’s more here.

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Growing like weeds

These days, everything in the Conger household is growing. In case you hadn’t heard, our family is growing by two come spring. With a June 1 due date, the twins will probably be here around May 1 if they’re patient.

I’m growing (no really, the belly gets bigger overnight); the girls are growing (they’re carrot-sized this week!); and soon, our home will be growing!

We’re moving in a few weeks into a two-bedroom apartment to make room for our growing family. I’m so excited to actually have a nursery and start planning for the arrival of our little girls. I’m daydreaming in grey and yellow, cheery and calming. Now to practice self-control while browsing Pottery Barn Kids.

Nursery daydreaming also brings me to more practical planning. With two on the way, I could easily let myself think we need two of everything, but with a little research I’m learning that’s not necessary.

I’d love some input from been there, done that moms– especially those with small spaces or multiple children. We won’t have a lot of storage space, and I don’t want half our things sitting unused once we discover Baby Girl A only wants to be in the bouncer and Baby Girl B only sits in the swing. So, before we register and start filling our nursery, what do we need to know?

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Rachel Goble: Saving children from a life of slavery

I‘m delighted to share a story I wrote for Verily Magazine about Rachel Goble, president of The SOLD Project, which rescues children from a life of slavery by focusing on prevention.

Rachel spoke with me over Skype from Thailand to talk about how she went from being ignorant of human trafficking to doing something to stop it.

27 million: That’s how man slaves are trapped in injustice today. Many of us, when we hear about human trafficking, are overwhelmed, torn between the desire to help and feeling unable to make any lasting impact. I know that’s where I was for a long time.

I love Rachel’s story because it’s an answer to the persistent question of what in the world one person can do. You go. You serve where you are, walking boldly through open doors, with the gifts God gives.

You can read Rachel’s story here. And if you’ve never read Verily, stick around and read some of their other wonderful articles. They’ve got everything from relationship advice to cultural commentary to fitness, and it’s all good! Verily is a refreshing countercultural read that has what most women’s magazines are missing, and I love it.

p.s. If you’re getting this in your inbox, please excuse the formatting snafus. WordPress’s email-to-post function seems to have a few html bugs that I haven’t quite figured out how to prevent. 

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