Thursday, June 13, 2013

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

-George Eliot

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Truth Has a Flavor

Brennan Manning passed away this week. 

Years ago, so many years that it seems like another lifetime, I read Ragamuffin Gospel. My young, often confused, but very ambitious soul sighed at the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of it. "Yes! This is it!" it sang, comforted and content. 

Truth tastes different than anything else. It has a flavor, doesn't it? A specific flavor that is instantly, all at once, cool to the touch and soothing to the mind. 

Or maybe Truth is a pitch. A tone, so low, that nothing except the deepest recesses of your heart can hear it. It's a tone that, upon contact, instantly releases the dams of emotion and boundaries you've been carefully crafting, to protect your heart and guard your fragile soul. Instead of a high pitched whistle only animals can hear, it's a low pitched melody, instantly recognized as absolute in your most genuine parts. 

any of Brennan's words are like that. Powerful, illustrative words that reach deep.  Deep behind the barriers I've constructed to protect myself. They reach far.  Far, into the chasm of who I am, of who I was created to be and murmur "PEACE" in a voice I cannot ignore. 

Words like this: 

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” 

 Or this:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last 'trick', whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

'But how?' we ask.

Then the voice says, 'They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'

There they are. There *we* are - the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life's tribulations, but through it all clung to faith. 

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.” 

Do you remember when you were young and you thought there was a clear answer for everything? Yes and No. Black and White. Right and Wrong. 

Years ago, when my soul heard the whistle of Truth, I made the assumption there was also False. And that life had a formula which, when followed, would produce Perfection and Happiness in equal degree. Truth plus Obedience equals  Goodness. How could it equal anything else? Why would God provide such things without a reason? And what reason other than Perfection would be worthy of Obedience? 

I no longer believe that Perfection is the goal of this lifetime. At least, that is what I tell myself. Because it's impossible, isn't it? And yet, I often find myself acting oppositely. I punish myself most severely for failures, scorning myself at every small mishap. I often detest myself for mistakes, big or small, and rarely extend grace that goes more than skin deep. 

How is it possible to hear, that tone, the clear, crisp whistle of pure truth, and instead of breathing the words as life-changing, I only allow the words to be moment-changing? To pierce the walls around my soul, but never actually break through. To throw a pail of water into the chasm of my heart, but never break the dam. And then I revert to my previous patterns of self-loathing and looking for an easy answer in A plus B equals C. 

My heart always gives pause when grief is involved. Brennan Manning left earth this week, and I stopped, halted in my tracks, to listen and think. 

I guess this is because I was acquainted with so much grief at a young age. Before the age of 8, I lost two members of my immediate family and had no idea how to cope. My mom hated funerals back then, so we attended neither my dad's nor my sister's. It's been over two decades. But somehow that wall around my heart that covers the grief-- I can not build it high enough. When I'm faced with death, or loss, part of that wall always crumbles, leaving me exposed and vulnerable. 

I think our hearts have layers. When we are young and we face tragedy, those intense experience pierce our heart, like an arrow, right through the center. We sometimes break off the end of the arrow, and convince ourselves we are healed because we can't see it anymore. But then something happens, another tragedy perhaps, or a very happy moment, and a layer of our heart is peeled off, exposing raw flesh and wood splinters left over from the arrow. 

We wrestle in those moments and struggle to face our tragedies, our demons. Soothing the raw flesh and pulling out the wood splinters, until no parts of the arrow can be seen. We find peace and healing and get ready to move on with our lives. Some of our walls come down. Some of our dams are broken.  And then, months later, or years later, the cycle repeats. Another layer of our heart comes off, exposing our flesh and our splinters. And we repeat the process. 

Today, as I reflect on Brennan Manning, some of my splinters are exposed. Just a couple, because the loss is far removed, but there they are, never the less. 

And with those exposed splinters the truth of his words reach more quickly into the center of my soul. And I'm reminded. I'm reminded that it's ok to fail. I'm reminded that life is a process, a journey, and contentment is realized along the way, at various stages, regardless of the formulas you follow. Contentment is found in ultimate trust. Trust that God made us well. Trust that God loves us well. Trust that He will give us the strength to make it through everything. 

Maybe most importantly, I'm reminded that when I hear that deep whistle of the Holy Spirit; when I taste that flavor of Truth that calms and soothes the deepest parts, to rest there. To rest for a minute, to enjoy that moment, and to do the work of breaking down a few layers of my walls, so that the moment can last longer than just a moment. 

Rest in Peace Mr. Manning, and Welcome Home. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Still Moving

Hey everyone!

I know it looks like I've been MIA for awhile... but actually I'm posting fairly often at

I also have guest blogged a few times for the Marcella project. Here are the links:

So stay updated at, follow our facebook page ( , and check back often,  to hear our latest thoughts, stories and challenges as we work for justice for the most vulnerable.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mathematical Greatness

There are a number of consistent factors that the girls in our home share in common. These factors often make the girls more susceptible to being trafficked or exploited. We call the factors "vulnerabilities."
One of these vulnerabilities is the presence of abuse prior to being trafficked. Histories of sexual abuse and physical abuse are extremely common in the lives of the girls in our home.
Another vulnerability is a lack of formal education. Every participant in our home is behind in their education when they arrive. Some by only 2 years. Others, have never stepped foot in a classroom.
Sheila is one of the girls who has never stepped foot in a classroom. Not only that, but every day, after her father would tutor her in reading, he would rape her. This terrible abuse began when she was only 9 years old. When she was 12 years old she was trafficked and raped for other people's profit. When she was 13, she was rescued and brought to My Refuge House.

When she first arrived in the house, she was not able to study any lessons without having terrible flashbacks. Through the patient care of our staff, she slowly and determinedly continued to try until this was no longer the case.
And this week, after only being in our home for six months, Sheila studied the multiplication tables, for the first time. Never having stepped foot in a school, never having been a part of a classroom, having every logical reason to admit defeat, Sheila studied rigorously.
And in less than a week, she had the entire table memorized.
We think she's a miracle in human form.
Special thanks to the incredible staff and teachers who continue to work with Sheila and the other girls in our home. They are truly making a difference.
Would you like to write a note of encouragement to Sheila and the other girls in our home? They would love to hear them! Please send one to For more info visit

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Healing Stories (1)

Within each of us there lies a story. Our story defines who we are and what we have become. Our stories carry pain and comfort, tears and laughter, sorrow and happiness, sacrifices and victory.
The girls in our home have been wronged and taken advantage of in their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Each of them has a unique story as a survivor of childhood abuse and exploitation. They were taught to hide the secrets of their trauma and painful experiences. But today, through a curriculum developed and revised specifically for them by our own social worker, Rose Ann Obenque, these girls bravely chose to express their stories, their shame, and ultimately, their triumph.
Rose Ann, MRH Social Worker and Program Supervisor
Join with us, as we help them celebrate Trisha's renewed hope, in her own words. Trisha is a special case, because she one of the few in our home who is a rape/incest survivor rather than a commericial sexual exploitation survivor, nonetheless, her story is important and deserves to be told! We hope you will honor her by reading it and celebrate with us, just how far Trisha has come.
A special thanks to Rose Ann for writing up their stories, and stay tuned in the coming weeks, to read more of them!
In this empty house, I was raped at knifepoint by my own uncle who raised me as a daughter for almost 9 years because my parents abandoned me.  When my uncle abused me, I had a very hard time accepting what he did to me. Since that time, I felt safer and more secure if I would isolate myself in a house, completely alone. Not even my parents whom I long to see could make me feel safe. I was brought to a shelter for abused young women where everyone was a complete stranger.
After 11 months of staying here, I never realized that I could come this far. My Refuge House (MRH) became my second home- a home that is safe, a home that gives us everything that we need. This is where I feel being loved and taken care of and happy. This is where I realized that finishing my studies is very important, and not only that, I was given a chance to do it!
The Staff at MRH became my family and they helped me change for the better. They are my “Ate’s” (sisters) and they guide me to become a good woman. They are making me strong with their help and advices. Miss Crystal also helped me because she really finds ways to help us even if she’s not our relative. My friends here at MRH make me happy because I can share my problems to them and share with me too.
Lastly, God helped me because without Him, I will not be strong after what happened. I draw comfort and strength from Him and I know that He is going to help me when I am weak. He also guides me and I know he will always be there.
And now, my life has changed a lot. I am now staying at MRH with my new found friends and with the staff who serve as my family. Whenever I am alone and worried, I always have my Bible with me. I have big dreams now and want to finish my studies and become a Social Worker someday. I want to be a Social Worker at MRH so that I could also share my own experiences to those girls like me and teach them how to be strong, just like I was, in spite of everything.
These people that I wrote in the arrow are the people that helped me a lot towards transformation.  The sunrise in my picture represents the lightness that MRH brought to my life when I arrived. MRH helped me see the lighter side of everything, even after all the darkness that I have experienced, I can finally see that there is still light.
Trisha's drawing of her story.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of our survivor

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Don't Know Why You Say Good-Bye, I Say Hello

The weeks are flying by, and before you know it, May will be here.

Typically, May is not a major landmark of any kind. But this year is different. For me, personally, and for My Refuge House, May is going to bring a number of changes. Good changes, but changes nonetheless. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

TIA-- This is Asia :)
Photo Credit: Amy Collins
My Refuge House recently promoted me to Executive Director! I will be moving to California on April 28th to begin working with the US side of our organization. Creating awareness, building partnerships and working to ensure that the work we do in the Philippines can continue. And not just continue... we want it to grow! There is still so much need for quality aftercare. And My Refuge House can provide quality aftercare to more girls! But, of course, we need funds first. Hence, the reason I am moving stateside.

We've hired a new Program Director for our facility in Cebu, Nicole Leblanc, and she will be arriving on April 4th for a month of training before I head over to California. I'm very excited about Nicole, and can't wait to work with her more. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about/from her in the future.

I'm really excited about my new role. It will give me the opportunity to advocate and educate everyone on the great work we have been and will continue to do on the ground. And, because I'm still overseeing the project, I will be able to return a couple of times a year to keep tabs on everything.

But I'm also sad to leave and a bit nervous. It will be so hard to say good bye to all the girls, and all the staff, and everyone else I've learned to love over the past three years of living in Cebu (and the ones I was able to rekindle relationships with, from when I lived here in 2002-2004!). I feel so, so overwhelmed with gratefulness for the experiences I've had in this wonderful place, and it will be sad to say goodbye. But, at least it's only a "see you later."

So, for those on the other side of the pond... see you soon! And for those on this side... well, it's not good-bye quite yet. Philippines, you can't get rid of me that easy. I'll be back :)

How could you not love these faces?
Photo Credit: Chris Lee

Friday, March 9, 2012

Baby Steps, Giant Leaps.

Hands down, the best part of my job: watching the girls grow and mature, gaining confidence in themselves and hope for their future. These changes come slowly, baby steps and small progress, but that's how lasting change is. The changes that last come in small slow steps and should be celebrated! Here are a few moment from this past month that I've observed in our girls that have made me smile:

1. Audrey* who was rescued when she was 13 years old, dropped out of school in grade 3 because of bullying. Here is what Audrey recently told our social worker: "If I ever get bullied or teased again, I will tell them that I have God in my life and I know him. I know that they are doing that because they have no God and they don't have enough faith in him. I am no longer the girl that they have known who is illiterate that they can easily tease or bully. I am a new girl, studying in a private school, and God is finding ways for me because of MRH's help."

2. Recently Jessica* went home on a family visit. Her family environment is very chaotic. Abuse, drugs and poverty are the terms that apply but cannot really describe the amount of deprivation that occurred. Jessica went to visit her family, and talked for a minute about her education and opportunities here at MRH. However, she spent the majority of the conversation encouraging her sister to believe in God because "Whatever her problems are, God can bear it." and "With God, everything is possible." Her family tried to persuade Jessica to drop her court case and move on with her life, but Jessica told them she will not. She will fight for justice against those who wronged her. She later said she didn't want to waste time talking about the things she was going to accomplish, she was just determined to work hard and excited for the day when she could show her family her diploma and prove to them that anything is possible.

3. Jasmine* when asked about the difference in her learning before and now said "Before I didn't know how to write and I hated it. Now, I know how to do Math and they are teaching me how to answer and read. Even if I get a low score, I'm still happy because I already learned how to read and write."

Baby steps, baby steps. So many baby steps. But when you put them all together, they become leaps and bounds.

*Names changed due to security

Monday, February 6, 2012

Shades of Grey

When I was in college I asked my friend Joshua what his favorite color was. "Grey," he said. "What? You can't say grey! Grey isn't even a color--it's a non-color." "I don't care, I like it."

At the time my favorite color to look at was aqua and my favorite color to wear was fuchsia.  I just could not wrap my head around someone loving a color, that in all actuality seemed like a void to fill with something brighter, not an answer in itself. Who on earth could love the color grey, I thought.

I guess, at the time, I had a similar relationship to other things that did not produce radiance. Loss, grief, pain, suffering.  You lost someone you love? There must be a reason for it, a deeper meaning that we just can't see. Your heart is broken? Don't worry, you'll have an even better story to tell when the "right" person comes along. You cut off your toe? I'm very sorry. Excuse me while I cover the wound with a neon green band-aid as you contract gangrene and I pretend like it's healed and worth shouting praises about.

And I stood, confused at the chaos around me when people accepted my words and smiles and affirmation to my face and then went home, still suffering, still confused. I couldn't understand why the pinks and greens and yellows I'd used to cover over my grey and brown areas weren't bright enough or strong enough for other people. I thought: what is so different about me, so strange about me, that I can find colors in the dark? Truth be told, I put myself on a pedestal. Convinced of my ultra-Christianity in a world full of people who just couldn't see well enough to enjoy the shine.

But as time went on, and I found myself forging new paths and moving on to uncharted territory. Slowly, over time, the colors seemed to wash away quicker than they had before, and for awhile I fought hand in fist to paint those colors on, brighter, brighter, ever brighter.

But the places were new and the people were new, and the hardships were new and lonely and they didn't know me and my neon color patches. And they didn't have any new colors to give me, and the old ones just kept washing away. And so I started to experiment with less color. What would happen? Would I survive? Less and less and less until I looked down, and had to admit to myself (but only when I was alone), that in fact the hurt was deep and dark and black, with occasional shades of grey.  No wonder the colors couldn't cover it anymore. What color can cover black? And I was angry. Maybe I didn't have any answers after all. Was it ok that I didn't have any answers?

So I started a journey. I sought out others who had been through hard things. I sought out persons and stories and struggles of the worst kind. Abuses and injustice and  atrocities abounded as soon as I started looking. I really didn't have to look far at all. And some of those hard things were so incomprehensible that no color could cover over the vastness of their suffering. And some of them never really tried. And this I couldn't understand. This changed everything. Where was the meaning? Where were the answers? Where was the thing worth striving for?

And is it possible to believe in joy and hope in the midst of crushing all-consuming suffering? Suffering that has no answers except time. Time and prayer and tears and pain and time. Is it possible to believe in peace when your soul has been trampled on, by absolutely no fault of your own? Is it possible to repair the mangled and ripped apart pieces that were buried when they became unrecognizable? And what color could possibly fit over them? What answer is there, in the midst of all those questions?

I don't have the answers.

I believe that God heals, piece by piece, bit by bloody bit. But sometimes that healing doesn't look at all radiant, sometimes it just looks peaceful for a minute, for a split second, before it goes back to being painful. Don't blink, it's there.

Every few years, I look back on my life and think about how naive and narrow minded I was a few years ago. Because now, irony of ironies, my favorite colors are brown and grey. Instead of seeing an emptiness that should be filled with something radiant and shocking, when I look at brown tones and grey tones now I see a non-assuming warmth that is just content with being warm. Fluidly whole and consistently solid. Rather than boring, it looks peaceful. Content. Stunning to no one, but enough, in and of itself, to give light and life.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Fight

Photo Credit: Amy Collins

The definition of sex trafficking is when an individual is coerced, forced, or deceived into engaging in sexual acts for payment. 

People sometimes ask me, in a curious and slightly judgmental way, "Didn't they try to get out?" Or "Why did they stay there?" or "Why didn't they fight harder to get away?"

Some of girls who are trafficked have been drugged and beaten, starved and maliciously raped until they have no fight left in them. 

For other girls, it takes less than that to keep them enslaved. 

Photo Credit: Amy Collins
We recently took in a 13 year old girl, Lynn*, who had been molested and raped by her father repeatedly since she was 9 years old. He would lock her in the house and beat her and her mother regularly. He threatened to kill the entire family if she told anyone. He used cocaine daily, always carried a knife and was very violent, so she had no reason to doubt his threats. When she couldn't take it anymore and told her mother, her mother asked her to keep it quiet so that they wouldn't be looked down on by their neighbors. Her father has another wife, and Lynn's mother is actually his mistress so he is not always staying with Lynn's mother, but when he does, Lynn would prefer to sleep outside than to be near him. To make matters worse, everyone in the community already knows about the abuse, but no one has ever tried to help Lynn, or the family. 

When a friend and neighbor coerced Lynn, at the age of 12, into taking a job at a restaurant, she readily accepted, longing for a way to escape. She's never attended school so any opportunity seemed like a good one. She soon learned that the job was more than just being a waitress, but she was told she would not eat unless she engaged in services, and having known no other life, and no other worth, she eventually gave in. 

Lynn was rescued by law enforcement and her neighbor and trafficker, as well as the men using her were all arrested. She was brought to My Refuge House and almost immediately felt safe. She was given clothes and health care and a chance to go to school. But most importantly, she was given the opportunity to fight, not only against her traffickers, but against her father who abused her for so long. 

And with the support of our staff, she is absolutely determined to see justice done. 

*Name changed for protection

want to know more?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Gifts

In values class the other day, the girls were asked to write down "My Greatest Gift for Myself this Christmas." I never fail to be amazed at the things they write, and as a gift to you, I hope you will enjoy reading a few of the gifts our girls are most thankful for.

"I learned how to spell, and I'm so thankful to the Lord, because if I was not here at MRH, I would not have learned how to spell words or been able to attend the classes here at MRH; those are the greatest gifts I've received this Christmas."

"My greatest gift for myself is that I've learned how to be careful with the way I talk to others and because of that I don't have any enemies anymore. Also, I've been able to know God and I really feel like I'm following him and I can carry my problems now."

"I don't feel sad anymore being away from my family or away from my home, and I'm thankful that I was brought here to MRH because we learned good manners and also how to take care of ourselves. I'm also thankful to God for saving me and I'm happy because I learned here for the first time how to open a Bible."

"The greatest gift that came to me is that I was already able to talk about everything I've been hiding, and God gave me strength to talk about everything I've done and all my experiences, and I don't feel shame in talking about it even though it's very dirty and even though my past was so very ugly. And I'm so happy that the person I told about my past doesn't feel dirty towards me and didn't change the way that they treated me. That's the greatest gift that's been given to me." 

"My attitude has changed, and I'm not like I was before, and I'm so proud of myself because I learned how to change my attitude."

"Every single day I get to know God while I'm at MRH, before in my house, I say thank you to God every day, but I'm thankful to be here because I like hearing and listening to God's words and I wasn't able to do that before."

"My greatest gift this Christmas is to be part of MRH and I'm so happy here because I've changed and I know how to handle my problems and my trials now. I'm so happy because I have a true family now. I know that MRH will protect me and they will not let me go to the bad person. If I go home and I'm with my true family, I know they will not protect me. That's why I'm so thankful to be part of MRH. This is my greatest gift to myself this Christmas: to be happy."

"I'm happy for myself and my child because of the many gifts we've been given like clothes."

From us to you, THANK YOU, for allowing us to give such good gifts to our girls.