Wanted: Secret Agents

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency of the...

Image via Wikipedia

Many words come to mind when I think of the CIA— espionage, clandestine operations, INTELLIGENCE, authority, strategy and adventure.  Strangely enough, “desperate” is not a term I would ever have associated with this government agency. 

But what am I to think when I hear an ad driving home from work the other day on KIIS FM, a local teeny-bopper radio station, advertising for CIA agents?  It sounded like an open call audition that just happened to include a polygraph test and a background check.  

Shut the front door!  Are we, the grand ‘ol USA, really that desperate to find qualified civil servants, that we have to pander to a predominately under-aged audience of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga wanna-be’s?  

Now, I work in marketing, and generally my intended audience is the one I am targeting; so what this ad campaign tells me, is that these “CIA “jobs, once so coveted that major movies and books were penned depicting their glory and honor, are now being mass marketed to teenagers getting their first job at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s.

After reading Leon Panetta’s comments on “said” radio campaign, I am now even more befuddled. The new director of the CIA (former chief of staff for Clinton and an Obama appointee), who is responsible for the ads, states that his goal is to reach out to minorities and people with foreign language skills; he is also trying to recruit more “Muslims, Arabs, African-Americans and Latinos.”

Ok, let me get this straight.  Affirmative action and lagging language skills are behind this? Now, I went to UCLA during the prime years of affirmative action.  My 4.0 GPA guaranteed that I might, (did I say might?) get a seat next to my good friend who was a quarter Indian, with a whopping 3.2 GPA.  Yeah, that was fair.  I busted my butt and he cruised on in. He didn’t grow up disadvantaged or on a reservation.  He lived around the corner from me and his house was bigger than mine.

So, is this the future of the CIA?  We dumb it down so that it’s politically correct and turn it into a late-night joke?  Call me naive, but true equality seems pretty simple, it’s when the best man or woman for the job gets the job, without racial or gender stereotypes. End of story.

 And when it comes to the protection of our country, is this the best we can do? How about stepping up the language training?  Or, possibly investing a few dollars in better recruitment tactics that appeal to minorities? Why don’t we leave those radio ads to ProActive and Geiko?

My confidence in this nation’s defense just fell quite a few notches, not that it was high to begin with.  But hey, at least our new linguistically skilled CIA agents will be able to dance to Chris Brown and Britney Spears.  If there is ever a covert op at a disco in Cairo maybe they can stun them with their killer moves.

Searching for “Triple X”

I have this nifty little tool that tracks the words people type into Google, or any search engine for that matter, to find my blog or certain topical areas that I have written on.  The only problem is that “said” nifty tool just happens to also expose the desperately evil “topics” that random people search for.  Let’s just say that there are some sick puppies out there.

I wrote an article, not too long ago, suggesting the Keep a Breast Foundation devalues women battling breast cancer with their I Love Boobies Campaign which targets Jr. High boys.  And because Google bots crawl around and pick up certain trigger words, here are just a few of the  keywords and phrases that people type in, and thus end up in my search box on a daily basis.

Past searches include:   “boobies”, “I heart big boobies”, “saucy boobies” “pile of boobs, ““Jr. High girl’s boobies”, and my personal favorite…”grandma and child hot sex.”

Really? Do people really type in this filthy tripe?

I know, I know… wake-up check,  “oh sheltered wife of a pastor.”

But, sometimes I forget, maybe on purpose,  how depraved people really are.  I put blinders on and plug my ears from the noise.  I live in a Christian bubble of nice people and vanilla pleasantries. Everyone is pretty and well dressed, smiling and socially aware of maintaining the “good” facade. Certainly, everyone minds their manners around the pastor and his wife.

And so, I am surprised and shocked when sins are so blatant and in my face, even though I am painfully aware of my own hidden darkness.

My baby illustrates how good we are at the game of image management.  She is always watching and always copying mama and daddy.  Her second sentence was, “How are you?”

If you ask baby the same question she will respond, “Oh, fine.”

She mimics what I do everyday.  The subtle pretend that we all do.  If I were honest, my baby would answer,”Oh, a tad bitchy, exhausted, overwhelmed, and pissed off at that idiot who just cut me off.”

I point my finger at the sick puppies, even though, I am constantly aware of my own nasty sin-nature and inequity apart from Christ.  It’s just so easy to call “that” guy a pervert and justify my own wicked heart.

So when “Mr. Obscene,”  who types in “Grandma and child hot sex” ends up reading my blog.  He searches for the darkest of porn and finds my simple little blog instead, the one that talks about faith, Jesus, and our desperate humanness embroiled in sin. But hopefully, he also finds someone who understands loneliness and the void in life when hope is dim.

Now, that is food for thought.  And maybe, just maybe, God uses this nifty little keyword tool to lead people into His light when they get lost along the way.

So, here is my message to those who read this post “accidentally.”

I’m glad you showed up. 

Sinners and perverts are welcome.

Shock and Awe

Items taken from Bundy's Volkswagen, August 16...

Image via Wikipedia

I am a big scaredy cat. I get squirrelly in dark parking lots, check my back seat for Ted Bundy, and keep every door and window locked despite the sweltering heat of summer.   The Night Stalker killings and rampage of the 1980’s terrorized my childhood dreams and sleep for years, even after he was incarcerated and even when my fear was more detrimental than reality.  Admittedly, if ADT offered a personalized alarm system, one that monitored my body’s perimeter for criminals, sex offenders and violent youth, I would be the first to sign up.

I know I am not alone in this irrational attachment to fear.  Women, in general, seem far more prone to insecurity than men when it comes to feeling safe and the media only plays into our anxiety.  Watching the eleven-o-clock news requires a black belt in karate or at minimum, a proficient knowledge in the use of handguns and weaponry. At least the Today show filters down the evil antics of the night before to a few newsworthy stories. The media’s fascination with shock value has given the general public an overload of information, much of it detrimental to our sense of well-being.

 In an effort to “enlighten us,” it has not come without a great cost.  We have sacrificed of our sense of peace and perceived security on the altar of “shock and awe news.” Jack Nicholson said it best, “You can’t handle the truth.” I both agree and simultaneously disagree with him. I would argue that a little truth goes a long way, and in some cases, I would actually prefer to be sheltered from every single murder and drive-by incident. On the flip side, deep down my spirit pushes me to cry out for the oppressed in direct opposition to my inner wuss who wants to live in denial.

That’s not to say violence hasn’t touched my own life. I don’t live in a bubble.  As a small child, an intruder broke into our home and assaulted my own mother at knife-point.   I’ve had my share of attempted break-ins, altercations, and even a bounty-hunter who terrorized my family one night due to a mistaken identity.  And maybe that’s the reason why my heart breaks every time I see another story of devastation and abuse.  Isn’t life hard enough without a play by-play rerun of its atrocities? 

As a story–teller, I too am at a conundrum. I aim to evoke emotion from my writing.  I want to expose the injustice in the world and bring it to light.  Conversely, as a woman and a mother, my deepest desire is for security and a sense of well-being. It is a duality that confronts all of us.  This is where faith in God and our deepest trust issues collide.  The Scriptures say to “fear not” while my flesh trembles and panics.  Maybe that’s why, “Don’t be afraid,” is repeated more often than any verse in the Bible.  God knew the torment we would encounter and suggests only He, can provide us with the peace and security we long for.

So until the day I will meet Jesus face to face, I will continue to lock my doors, skip the late news and press into the truth, even when I would rather shut my eyes and even when the façade of safety seems more appealing than the violence of reality.

 

The big bad yellow bus…

Front of a yellow school bus.

Image via Wikipedia

In another initiative to over protect our kids and alleviate any modicum of self-reliance, a suburban Chicago school district has outfitted their students backpacks with a luggage tag size GPS that monitors when the student gets on and off the bus.  While I can appreciate the concern of parent’s for their child’s welfare, this whole concept of micro-chipping our pets and kids has an ominous big brother tone that is eerily playing out before our very eyes.  But more importantly, from a developmental perspective, navigating the bus, with all its relational drama and intensity, is a rite of passage for a child. This is where we learn to stand on our two feet, set good boundaries and survive in a world without mom and dad. It’s where both good and bad decisions are made, and kids actually learn from natural consequences.

 This takes me back to my own bus story as kid, a defining moment in the spectrum of childhood adventure. It also makes me wonder how many kids will we emotionally handicap by never letting them screw up, get lost and find their way back home.

The year was 1977; I was seven-year old 2nd grader, taking the big yellow school bus home for the first time.  Apprehensive all day, the momentous occasion had finally arrived.  There I stood, in my rainbow knee socks and straggly pig-tails, taking in what seemed like an endless row of busses.  My parents had told me to take the bus that went to South Huntington Beach but I could only see black numbers on the side of the yellow behemoths.  Starting to panic, I asked one of the drivers where they were going.  He looked down at me, scratched his scraggly chin, and said, “Honey this bus is going to Huntington Beach.”

Well…that seemed close enough, so I skipped on up the stairs, and settled down into a seat near one of my classmates that I recognized.  We drove off and I settled in to what seemed like an awfully long ride to South Huntington Beach.  After all the kids but one had gotten off the bus, it started to dawn on me that something was terribly wrong.  Timidly I approached the driver, “Sir, I thought you said we were going to Huntington Beach?”

The old driver cackled, “I just drove through the whole damn town.  You lost kid?”

“Yes sir,” I warbled, my eyes filling with tears.

“Well this bus is going back to the yard and I got plans. You gotta get off at the next stop cuz I don’t have time to deal with you.  Go with that other kid and call your mom.”

“Ok,” I said, more scared of the bus yard than being abandoned.  I envisioned a field of empty yellow buses with no mommies for miles.

I followed the sole little girl off the bus and asked her if I could call my mom from her house. She agreed and off we trotted to her home.  Her mother fussed over me like a hen, until my own mom arrived, distraught over the mishap.  I heard my mother telling the girl’s mom; “you would think a kid going to a gifted and talented magnet school could figure out how to take a bus.”

Embarrassed and yet exhilarated that I had survived a dangerous journey all by myself, I stood up a little taller and I didn’t hold my mom’s hand on the way out like I usually did.  Strangely enough, some lessons of self-reliance can only be learned by getting on the wrong bus.

The Face of Jihad

Children in Khorixas, Namibia

Image via Wikipedia

About ten years ago at a Christian rock concert, I was introduced to the humanitarian group called “World Vision” and felt compelled to be a part of their mission.  World Vision is dedicated to working with children, families and communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.  Basically, my involvement would be in the sponsorship of a child in need through monthly giving.  My children were very small at the time, but I envisioned picking a child that they could connect with and learn about giving and social awareness.  The little boy I chose had the same name as our family and “Adam” became a subtle reminder to us, all over the years, that in the smallest of ways we were all a part of the same global community of faith.  We received pictures from him and letters updating us on his growth and education.  We laughed when he sent us a picture of his new goat and my little ones drew him pictures of our family.  Ultimately, Adam became a goat herder and grew up and out of the program. But Adam had touched our lives in more ways than he would ever know. 

When I suddenly became a single mother, and struggled financially to provide for my children, I was challenged to believe that God would provide for not only us but Adam as well.  Sometimes I would look at my stack of bills and then at his picture and laugh.  He never knew how many times I almost gave up on him in my own desperation. I learned much about sacrificial giving through a little boy from Ethiopia and my children learned about staying the course and having a double fisted faith in God’s promise to take care our basic needs. 

Recently, World Vision sent us a picture and bio of a new child to replace Adam.  Ironically, once again we are being challenged by our World Vision child. My son, now twelve, and my daughter, now nine, were excited to open up the package and see who God had chosen for us.  My husband was now also part of our little group and as we tore into the envelope and read his name we were shocked to learn that he was called “Jihad.” 

Our first reaction was one of confusion.  World Vision is supposed to be a Christian organization and clearly this was a Muslim child as indicated by his papers.  This raised many questions in our home about what it meant to be the hands and feet of Christ, even in the face of our enemies.  This child may never know he has been named after one “striving in the way of Allah,” but his needs for food and clothing are probably all too real.  Tim and I considered asking for a different child, but finally decided to continue supporting him despite our conflicting feelings. 

While I don’t know if I am supporting a child that may someday fight against my own children or all that I believe in, I do want to be open to what God is doing in my life.  Jihad’s picture is penned up on my desk at work beside my children and husband.  He is slowly growing on me, though I do feel more of a sense of obedience than any natural affection. Once a month as I write out his check, I look at him and laugh and can only wonder what the Lord is doing in my heart through this boy.

Why I hate the grocery store…

Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Image via Wikipedia

My husband can attest to the fact that I am, at best, a reluctant recycler.  After living in Newport Beach where they sort your trash, and then moving to the ‘burbs, it’s been hard for me to jump on the two trashcan bandwagon…one for recyclables and one for pure trash.  As a purger, unlike my hoarder husband, I dare to take a stand and boldly say, “I like to throw crap away!” One time I even dumped my trash in a restricted trashcan when mine was full(Yeah I know I am a green traitor).  I despise clutter and so I am quite content throwing away something we may or may not use in the next twenty years.  But, for all my obsessive tendencies, I have given a yeoman’s effort to be a better environmentalist.   Much of this is due to the guilt trip of my children.

The schools have successfully brainwashed our children into depicting my generation(30-40) as a gas guzzling, landfill hogging, ozone destroying enemy.  And the children have been indoctrinated with a Go Green message to infiltrate the homes of the worst offenders…namely me.  And it’s working, because I am slowly, one plastic bottle at a time, separating my trash.  I have also bought one of those cute reusable grocery bags, not that I’ve used it, but it’s there, as tangible evidence to the shift in my heart.

And then one day, out of the blue, I knew I had crossed over to the other side when I had an unexpected reaction at the grocery store.  It’s not the bad service, the long lines, or the mass commercialization of the cereal aisle that gets me, it’s the lousy coupons.  When you check out, after going through the mental anguish of deciding between paper or plastic and then weigh the ramifications of either choice to the environment, the checker proceeds to print out about 500 little pieces of paper to save you money on your next visit. 

Really??? After all the work you and I have done to clean up our acts, clean up our beaches, clean up the oil spill, sort through the trash, drive fuel-efficient cars, go paperless at the office, recycle, recycle, recycle…and the checker just used enough paper to wipe out a forest for coupons that I can never even remember to bring!

I am mad!  Mad enough to raise public awareness and have a mini-fit!

That’s why I am going to Trader Joes where all the bohemian hummus eating people go to shop.  They don’t have coupons, just pure and simple low prices.  And I will sleep better at night knowing I did my part to save the planet

Violence and pigtails…

IMG_1189 Thug Lovin or Jhug Lovin, stencil and...

Image by ww_whist via Flickr

I have only been punched twice in my life.  My initiation to aggression was at a Cult concert at the tender age of eighteen. 

Exiting the amphitheatre, a random drunk decided I was in his way, and launched a bomb to my right eye.  Knocked off my high heels, I laid writhing on the ground and cried like the girl I am, as my friends defended my honor and a large brawl ensued. 

I felt violated and angry that someone could be so abusive to a complete stranger, but the mosh pit and chaotic climate didn’t exactly exude peacemaking.  Though my pride was injured, I was able to process and come to terms with the assault. 

The second time I took a hit was far more traumatic than my college experience, but just as unexpected.  Almost twenty years later, serving at a local outreach center in a poor and downtrodden neighborhood, a little girl opened my eyes to the hidden realm of domestic abuse as I was thrust abruptly into an altercation.

We were painting the learning center that day, a large group of high school kids from our church youth group dedicating a three-day weekend to go serve in the community.  My husband, the pastor, was inside motivating the kids to paint the walls and a little less of each other.  Newly pregnant, I was relegated to the courtyard to avoid the fumes.  My job was to paint all the doors which had been removed from their hinges.  It seemed like an endless stack piled against the tree planter. 

As I painted,  a  few little girls played nearby  me and I bantered with them and tried out my limited Spanish.  I pointed to my little bump, “bebe,” and they giggled and rubbed my belly.  The girls were about six years old; one had dark pig tails and missing teeth (the distinct marks of a first grader), the other wore blue and for a small child had an air of sadness and maturity.  The girl in blue spoke English while my little pigtailed companion jabbered away happily in Spanish and had her friend translate for me.

Out of the blue, little pig tails approached me, head down and leaned in for what I thought was a hug.  I opened my arms wide and got the shock of my life.  With all her might, she reeled back and punched me in the stomach.

Stunned and staggering backward, I could only whisper, “no, no, no,” as the little girl, with terror in her eyes, started crying. Her friend started scolding her in Spanish, and she only cried more.  I asked what she was saying through my own tears, and the girl in blue translated, “She wants to know if she killed the baby.”

“What?” I asked.

“She wants to know if she is in trouble, because she tried to kill your baby,” whispered the little girl in blue, mortified at what her friend had done and scared I was going to haul them both off to the authorities.

My first reaction was to protect the baby in my womb.  I ran for my husband to get help.  In big hiccupping sobs, I explained what happened.  Dumbfounded, he just stood there in disbelief.  Then he moved into action, found the director and the two of them tended to me.  Slowly I moved from hysterical, nauseous, and light-headed to worn-out and emotionally drained.  Ironically, I had an ultrasound scheduled the next day and after a call to the Dr., who reassured us that the baby was probably fine, my husband forced me to lie down on a sofa and I passed out.

While I was sleeping, the director hunted down the little girl and dropped in on her parents who lived in an apartment nearby.  When confronted with the situation, the mother apologized profusely and pleaded for forgiveness, but the father, a migrant farm worker from central Mexico, smirked and refused to comment.  His defiant arrogance and lack of remorse suggested he was the model for her aggressive behavior.

The director realized all too quickly what was going on in their home and begged that he not hit the little girl or hurt her as punishment.  She left their home frustrated and sad.  How do you confront a child perpetrator who is also a victim in a vicious circle of domestic violence?

In all likelihood, the little girl had probably witnessed the abuse of a pregnant woman (possibly her own father hurting either her mother or sister).  Statistically, domestic abuse rises in pregnancy… add in poverty, language barriers and rigid sex role stereotyping, and the ratios rise even higher. 48% of Latinas in one study reported that their partner’s violence against them had increased since they immigrated to the United States.[1]  According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year in the United States more than 300,000 pregnant women experience some kind of violence involving an intimate partner, and about one-quarter of women in this country report having been sexually or physically assaulted by a spouse, partner, or boyfriend at some point in their life. Domestic violence is a leading cause of injury to American women between the ages of 15 and 44 and is estimated to be responsible for 20 to 25 percent of hospital emergency room visits by women.

The director of the learning center shared with me that domestic abuse and violence are common occurrences in the neighborhood. And sadly, it may only be the tip of the iceberg as to the real magnitude of the problem because of the very hidden nature of this type of abuse-one that women and children cover out of shame and desperation. 

One year later, I decided to go back to the learning center.  I took my three-month old healthy baby girl with me, snuggled in close in a baby sling.  I wanted and needed to redeem this place that offers so much hope and assistance to a hurting community.  Alas, my expectations were too high.  As, I walked through learning center and saw the brightly colored walls that our high school kids had painted, I was initially encouraged.  I paused and noticed the doors I had painted and cherished the scene of children happily studying and playing.

I sat down with a tutor and a small group of children and we worked on lessons.  But one little boy seemed to be having problems.  Distracted and belligerent, the boy refused to listen or obey the rules.  Frustrated the tutor called for backup and eventually his mother was called.  In walked a defeated woman.  She tried to get her son to leave with her quietly but he began to get physical and started to kick and hit her.  He was so out of control, it took two men to get him out of the room.   Trying to protect the baby, I backed into the corner with the other kids.  Fear and tension entered the room.

Once again, violence had broken into our midst.  The children were able to settle down quickly, but I remained apprehensive.  Their familiarity with physical aggression was unsettling to me.  I felt like a foreigner in a dangerous land, unprepared and unarmed.  Their toughness only magnified my insecurities. Growing up in a sheltered environment, I doubted whether I had anything to offer to these children that live in the face of constant danger.

Another little girl, seeing my discomfort grabbed my hand and asked me to play a game with her.  As she beat me at Go Fish, for the tenth time and cackled like a hen at her own cunning, she turned and looked in my eyes.  “Don’t worry about that mean boy. I like you.  Will you come back and read to me again? We can be friends.”

“Ok, I said. “Friends.”

The child’s wisdom is this…there are no simple answers for what seems like an insurmountable crisis in our society.  So, you do the best you can and hold on to God with double fisted faith. You survive.  And in the presence of evil, you find a friend and beat them at Go Fish


[1] Mary Dutton et al., Characteristics of Help-Seeking Behaviors, Resources, and Services Needs of Battered Immigrant Latinas: Legal and Policy Implications, 7 Geo. J. on Poverty L. and Poly 245 (2000).

%d bloggers like this: