Summer 2010. We decided it was that magical time to start trying for a baby. We had been married for almost 2 years, and I had been child-centric since day one so I was done impatiently waiting. My plan was to have four babies by thirty. I had envisioned my perfectly routine and comfortable lifestyle, staying at home with the little ones in order to be involved with every activity their hearts could desire. I had a list of baby names for the sibling set of four, with substitutes for each possible combination of genders. I had allocated bedrooms in our house for each future child and had themes in mind for each well-decorated blog-inspired bedroom. The twins (twins run in my family) would be in the room across the hall, the other two would each have their own room, and our office would double as a guest room. We had a house at the end of the cul-de-sac and a yard ready for them to run in. I began filling closets with quality baby gear, and filling dressers with designer baby clothes I snagged along the way. I had envisioned how my 10-year high school reunion would play out. I would show up with my handsome husband (check) by my side, and I would share about my Pinterest-perfected family and “Real Simple” lifestyle. My two college degrees would be exemplified by way of a well-dressed (Clothing, Textiles, and Design) and well-adjusted (Family Life) family. Of course I would be widely successful in some career in the future but my first focus would be my family.
I thought for sure it would happen in the first month of trying; after all I am one of 5 children, my mom is one of 9 children, with her side of the family commonly referred to as “fertile turtles”. It didn’t happen as magically as I had anticipated after the first month of trying. The second month went by; surprisingly I saw no little plus sign. The third month came and went much slower than the first two, with every little nuance hopefully mistaken for a sign of nausea. Fourth… fifth… sixth… month after month turned painfully into year after year facing that nasty little negative sign. The more time went on the more difficult it became to attend birthdays and baby showers, fearing when the questions and comments inevitably came our way: “When are you guys going to make an announcement?” “Are you on the 5-year plan?” “What are you guys waiting for?” “Do you want kids?” “It’s your turn next” “You guys need to get on it.” Combined with the isolation of infertility, these repeatedly felt as scouring salt to an open womb. As my baby names were given to other people’s babies and my stockpile of designer deals sat collecting dust in a dresser, my hope grew dim and my heart grew harder. I was wired for babies. I was built to be a mom. I didn’t understand.
Spring 2012. Kat and I were at the end of the research and planning phase of William + Leora, and we were just starting to put into action what we had outlined. God had guided us to a clear vision and purpose for our company. Our aim with William + Leora was to create a line of fashion-forward yet modest clothing for girls, specifically the tween (ages 7-14) niche, while donating 25% of our profits to support the fight against child trafficking. We established as a thoughtfully designed, carefully crafted in the USA, and purposely driven business. We were working on building a strong core in order to become highly profitable and give generously. God was faithful in providing for so many answered prayers both big and small, and He provided as we found ourselves in need. With such a big God we served, equally big dreams were on the horizon of William + Leora, trusting He would provide a way if it was His will. Our long-term goal, 10-15 years down the line was to be a fully vertical company, changing lives from the top down. We wanted to be able to use employment as a means for empowerment. We envisioned creating employment for women, with childcare, health benefits, training and encouragement for those who might not be “qualified” elsewhere. It was a future vision; we had not even considered it on the radar of short-term reality. We were just 2 newbie’s, hardworking and driven but very limited in our experiences and resources. We were starting at the very beginning, learning everything as we went; God was faithful in guiding us, but we had so much room to grow.
I can remember sitting in church; it was Justice Weekend, and Clayton Butler of Agape International Missions (AIM) gave the message. AIM is an organization working on the front lines of human trafficking; they work to rescue, rehabilitate, and restore victims. I was reminded back to the time I first heard them speak in January of that year. The day they first presented at our church was the exact day Kat moved to the Tri-Cities to co-found William + Leora. They shared about a new vision they had in the works, an employment center designed to empower the women that they had rescued and rehabilitated. The sustainable work would help reintegrate the women. They were currently producing bracelets called 3Strands, founded by a man by the name of Ken Petersen, CEO of Apricot Lane, a chain of women’s fashion boutiques. Ken was using the position and resources God had blessed him with to partner with AIM and see how they could together make a difference. They had purchased sewing machines in hopes of starting apparel. As Clayton finished speaking, I connected the significance between the parallel visions we shared and knew we needed to investigate partnering with them. Afterward, my husband CJ said the strangest thing had happened; Scott Metzger, a friend from our previous grow Group, had “randomly” approached him and asked if we would consider going to Cambodia on a missions trip. I thought it was odd, “coincidental” maybe, but I was caught off guard that CJ wasn’t completely closed off to the idea. We had never seen ourselves as the “going” type of missionaries. We decided we would pray about it, but I was still hopeful that we would get pregnant very soon and that would be that.
A few weeks later, as we were sitting in our church grow group, the next prompt came. We were discussing how to get more involved in serving locally and globally, and the topic of Cambodia was brought up. Cambodia had been on our minds a lot lately. It was collectively called out that CJ and I should go to Cambodia. Why CJ and I? Remember, we were not the “go-ers,” yet again we were being nudged to consider. It was suggested that we were the perfect candidates because we didn’t have kids, thus making it optimal timing. We didn’t have kids… we didn’t have kids… we didn’t have kids. While this was a very logical and practical way of looking at our situation and the “freedom” we would have to pick up and go serve in Cambodia, I resented those words and that reasoning. This gentle nudge from our loving grow group was in no way meant to be hurtful or insensitive to “our situation”. In fact, they didn’t even know “our situation” or that this was a sensitive subject. I never shared about my infertility. I loved to lend an ear and encourage others, but I purposefully avoided revealing anything about myself that was broken, brought me pain, or exposed my vulnerability.
A few days after we had been nudged, I was sitting at a coffee shop working on William + Leora, when God yet again brought the people of Cambodia to mind. I was sitting comfortably, sipping coffee and sourcing fabrics, when I was struck by the stark contrast between my comfortable little bubble and their daily reality. As I sifted swatch after swatch, searching for our upcoming collection, my mind was far from thinking silk or sateen. I was torn. I knew how powerful a trip to Cambodia would be, but I was trying to realistically imagine how CJ and I would be able to go. For every pull in my heart towards going, I had an even stronger force of reasoning in my head to stay. It would be a lot of responsibility to pass onto Kat, being out of reach in another country during our very first production run. Not to mention, I would just be returning from debuting our line at our first trade show in New York. If I was going to take time off of William + Leora, in the height of the hectic, God would have to make it VERY clear he wanted us there. I was also prideful in my attitude and reaction to the reasoning that “we didn’t have kids.” I needed to know that God specifically had a purpose for CJ and I to be on that trip. I asked God to make it very clear if I was supposed to go to Cambodia. So I put out a fleece before God, if He would put me in contact with Ken Peterson, CEO of Apricot Lane, then I would go. I knew in the back of my mind how difficult this task could be. Just starting out in the retail sales world, I knew how hard it was to get in contact with a buyer, let alone a CEO. So I wrote my email to firstname.lastname@example.org, the generic address off the website, and didn’t think twice about receiving a return. God must have been smiling, as one business day later, “ding”.
Your email made it to the right hands! I am actually coming to speak at your church on May 10-11. I would love to meet with you during my visit - maybe Friday late morning? In the meantime, can we schedule a call on Monday to chat? I am available at 11:00PDT if that can work. If so, shoot me a phone number that I can catch you at.
I love it when God sends us "unexplainable connections" as He guides and directs us when we listen!
Enjoy your weekend and I look forward to talking with you.
Not only did Ken respond, he was already coming from California to the middle of nowhere, Tri-Cities. Not only did I get in touch with him, I got to meet with him! Despite my selfish, prideful, and stubborn self, God faithfully answered my prayer and one-upped me.
It was a week before the applications were due, I begin to detach from the significant loud and clear voice of God saying, “GO, GO, GO!” and started listening to the excuses creep in and the lies distracting me telling me “NO, NO, NO.” So yet again, I asked for another confirmation for another excuse I had managed to think up. As I was still waiting for that baby, I was still loving on my “Monday- Friday baby”, William. I had an excellent relationship with Will’s family, but it was hard for me to justify being away from him; I knew how hard it was to coordinate quality childcare. So, unless they went on family vacation or we coordinated our trips, I didn’t really like to take “time off”. I had already arranged New York and bought the plane tickets for that trip. It just wasn’t in the cards to take an additional 10 days off and go across the globe. Time was ticking and CJ and I had yet to make our decision; I got a phone call. It was Will’s mom; she had planned their family vacation and wanted to give me the heads up incase CJ and I wanted to go somewhere fun. She told me to mark my calendar for August 16th-23rd; the exact dates of the Cambodia Trip. I surrendered. We turned in our applications.
Due to the sensitivity of the situation in Cambodia, we had a screening interview to solidify the last step in the application process. This interview was to make sure we could handle the difficulty situations to which we might be exposed. We would be on the frontline; the community we would be serving in was notorious for the evil of child sex trafficking and the darkness that lurked with such a horrific prevalence. I specifically remember one question- “How are you at dealing with difficult situations?” I sat up in my chair a little higher; I proudly explained that I was very analytical and had the ability of removing myself from the situation emotionally and could objectively come up with a solution. I wasn’t a crier; I was more of a counselor. They explained it was good to keep in mind that these children face hardships as their daily reality, and they didn’t need someone to come and feel sorry for them; they needed someone to pour life and encouragement on them.
August 2013. I remember out first day arriving in Cambodia. On the drive from the airport to the hotel, we passed by monuments telling of Cambodia’s culture, a plethora of diverse and elaborately constructed temples of sorts. There were modernized mansions sporadically disbursed throughout the dense demonstration of disparaging poverty. For the most part, we were detached from this poverty as we drove quickly by it, but when we stopped at a traffic jam that was the moment it became tangible. That is when we saw him. He was a beautiful child who couldn’t have been any older than 8. He was selling intricately crafted flowers on a string. He was standing at the window of our car, staring in with a needy gaze. We were driving in the equivalent of New York City rush hour, but without any regulated traffic control. The boy had weaved through the crazy cars and manic motos to tip tap at the window of our car. It was not a good idea to buy the flowers, but forget the flowers; I wanted to carry that child safely to the other side of the street, give him a strict lesson on safety and send him on his way to play. I couldn’t look at those big brown eyes any longer, but do I look down? Either way I felt like a coward just doing nothing- how do I engage? We had a driver- he drove away, unfazed of course because this was nothing out of the ordinary. We arrived at the hotel, which was located in the “nice” area; we checked in, and then decided to tour the city on foot. I was engrossed by the stimulation of the surroundings. I am an observer and an analyzer; I usually enjoy people watching. I was struggling. I was struggling to find the funny side conversations to laugh with and the joyful scenarios to interject my smiles. Was it my perspective? I struggled seeing the undressed children fending for themselves on the street. I struggled with conditions of their daily life. I struggled stomaching the feces as I watched my step. Most of all, I struggled with the overwhelming hopelessness. The scene was somber, but I knew the sick feeling in my stomach was not set on by the presence of poverty, but more the absence of joy, laughter, and light. I knew the next day we would be fully submerged in a village that was once notorious for the evil prevalence of child sex trafficking and yet my knees were buckling at the sight of “poverty.” Analyzing the day and calculating what was to come, I was overwhelmed by my own insignificance and the impossibility of us actually “making a difference” in the week to come. Pride breaking.
I remember our first day in the village. We pulled up in front of Rahab’s house; this building was once a brothel and had since been transformed into a place of hope. It now served as the center of outreach for Agape International Missions (AIM). Before we even reached the threshold, we were rushed with friendly faces. Little ones were fluttering all around us, eager to meet our team. This place was different. The floors were spotless despite the dusty dirt roads outside. The walls that were once used as a barrier of captivity were now colorfully lined with cheerful murals that told about a journey of transformation. There was light. There was peace. There was an overwhelming presence of joy. The hope that filled this building told the story of Jesus Christ’s redeeming love. Lives were being rebuilt. Walls breaking.
I remember our first session of Kids’ Club. I was astonished at how polite and respectful these children were, neatly standing in straight lines. They followed the leader precisely, as they spoke in echo, passionately repeating what was prompted in their native tongue, Khmer. Then we began to sing. I was instantly struck by the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit as the children sang at the top of their sweet little lungs. These children were praising Jesus, with their whole bodies; they were teaching me how to worship. Then came a song in English and at the chorus they screamed out, as loud as they could, “and every time you call my name I can’t help but say I LOVE YOU... I LOVE YOU…And I will never STOP… CHASING and I will never STOP… RUNNING after you… you’re all I want FOREVER.” They shouted and danced before their Father, stomping passionately as they chased after their Lord. Then they prayed. They prayed with such passion and prayed with all their might. It was surreal; it was as if time was standing still so that I could fully absorb this powerful moment. This wasn’t the hot stuffy room we had just been in seconds before; my whole body was overcome with chills. This wasn’t the same brothel located in that notoriously evil village; this house belonged to the Lord. These couldn’t be the same kids who were bussed over from the brick factories and neighboring areas of poverty; they were carefree, joyful, and unburdened. These could not be the kids from the statistics, either having been trafficked at one time or currently being trafficked at night, some by their own parents. Not these precious babies. My eyes started to well; the pooled precipitation began rolling down my cheeks, and trickled off my chin. Hardness breaking.
I remember the day I noticed the siblings. The distinguished appearance of a particular line caught my eye. Their skin was a little bit darker. Their clothes were a little more tattered. Some had hair bleached by the scorching sun. These were the kids from the van, and many were from the brick factories. That is when I saw them, the siblings. The oldest sister appeared to be around 7 or 8 years old; she huddled a 3-year-old child by her side and a 10-month-old baby on her lap. They blended with those in their line, but their dynamic stuck out. The oldest was no more than a child, yet was bearing the weight of a mother. I wanted to hold that baby. I wanted her, at least while she was at Kids’ Club, to focus on being a kid. I observed her daily pulling herself and her two siblings to the corner of the room. She would pull out a box of milk giving the majority of it to her two siblings and if there was any left over she would take the last sip. She would lay the baby down and pat his belly until he fell asleep. Despite the excited squeals and bustling kids, that baby would drift off peacefully. Those siblings. Their selfless love. Selfishness breaking.
I remember the day we rode in the van to pick up the kids. As we pulled up to the brick factory, I was overjoyed when I saw my little family from the first day. We all squeezed together, shoulder-to-shoulder, which created the perfect environment for bonding and quality time to be taught Khmer. They giggled as I repeated it over and over, like a toddler learning to talk. We arrived back to the village and started another round of Kids’ Club. The kids had all found team members they enjoyed clinging to, making it much harder for them to sit in their perfect lines. They were well loved. We were well loved. My line of brick factory babies were the most reserved and withdrawn out of all the kids, I felt drawn to them. I noticed after our van ride they were more comfortable coloring and interacting with me, but I wanted to be cautious. I didn’t know their stories. After coloring, it was game time. I was not looking forward to this particular “balloon popping” game. It was going to be loud and chaotic, so I was bracing for impact as I was walking around tying balloons to ankles. I felt three small tugs on my shirt and turned around; it was the eldest of the siblings. She chose me to tie her balloon. She was playing the game! She took me by hand to her younger sister and pointed to have me to tie her balloon as well. She handed her baby off to one of the local leaders and was eagerly ready to play. This was so meaningful to me. This was the first game she played. She trusted me enough to approach me. She was free to be a kid. Barriers Breaking.
I remember touring the Agape Employment Center (AEC). We were discussing the possibility of having the AEC produce items for William + Leora. They had crafted a beautiful sample for us and we were now onto logistics. The same presence of joy that filled Rahab’s house was evident in the atmosphere of the AEC. The women were busy sewing at the organized rows of machines, chatting away while they sewed. We then visited the nursery and met the childcare staff taking care of 3 adorable babies so their mamas could be at work. We toured the classroom, where the employees were taught English and did group Bible studies. Lastly, we toured the studio where the 3Strands Bracelets were being made. The mood of the room was relaxed, equivalent to the feeling when a bunch of girlfriends get together to craft. Each attentive to the work they were crafting, but also equally engaged with each other. These were inspiring women. I was astonished how these women worked together so cheerfully, building each other up in this community of empowerment, when once they had been victims of human trafficking, isolated and alone. There was no other explanation for the stark transformation than God’s healing love. I told myself that I couldn’t forget these women, this initiative. Even if the road we faced to produce here was difficult, we had to remember that it was worth it, for them. Plans breaking.
I remember our last day in the village. We began that morning with a devotional, like we did every morning, but this one began with “Entrust your loved ones to me…” While it hit home for many of our team members, I had a hard time connecting because my loved one was sitting in the seat next to me. I had also inferred that this particular devotional was focused on children, whom we didn’t have. I quickly wrote it off as we arrived at Rahab’s house. It was day five, and at this point we were just starting to communicate well with the kids, and we almost understood what we were repeating. It was day five and I think the kids knew it was day five. They knew we left on day five. Before I knew it, my brick factory babies surrounded me. They inched closer and closer as we sang. One put their hand on my shoulder, which gave the others courage to scoot in also. Close. Closer. Closest. So close they were practically sitting on my lap, but far enough away that they still were following the rules. One grabbed my left hand, another my right. I ran out of hands so the next one grabbed my ankle. They longed for that healthy, unconditional, maternal love, and I longed to give it. I hadn’t realized how quickly I had bonded with these kids until this moment. I was blindsided by this bond. “I’m not emotional and I’m not easily attached”, I was repeating this thought over and over, almost as a protective barrier. With every second those little hands squeezed mine, it was as if I was losing all control. All the incredible experiences of the past week flooded my mind, I should have held on to those memories and been content with “a job well done,” but I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to let them go. Control breaking.
I remember our goodbye. The kids came up one by one as we said our final “bpray-ah bpro thien pbo” God Bless you. God Bless you. God Bless you. When my three came to say goodbye, I could barely mutter the words to tell them “bpray-ah bpro thien pbo” one last time. It was everything I could do to hold it together, and as they walked away I lost it. I got up quickly, walked to the window, and I wept. I tried to stop the tears, hoping the fresh air would help me come to my senses. Nothing could take my mind off those kids, I barely knew them, but I loved them; my heart was broken as they walked away. I couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t explain it, I couldn’t fix it –I was broken. I was finally broken before the Lord. I was broken about my pride. I was broken about my selfishness. I was broken about my hardness and the walls I had built in my life. I was broken about the barriers of poverty. I was broken about my lack of control, dealing with infertility and desperately wanting to be a mom. I was broken about holding tightly to my own plans. I was broken about the reality of child trafficking and that these children were at such a great risk. It didn’t feel right to let them go. I wanted to protect them. I wanted to provide for them. I wanted to show them unconditional love. I barely knew them, yet I wanted to adopt them as my baby boy and my girls; I wanted to give them hope for a good future. I left Cambodia fully broken.
Summer 2014. It took me awhile before I was ready to process Cambodia. It was difficult for me to digest those distinct moments God was using to shape me. The evidence of God’s light shined so bright, and it was clear to see God powerfully moving in the hearts of those we met; it took me time to see how He was moving in my own heart. He wanted us to go so that we could make a difference, but He also wanted us to go so He could make a difference in me. When I was able to finally sit quietly, He revealed some very significant truths. First I was reminded of that study on the van, “Entrust your loved ones to me…” Those little ones were my loved ones. Due to USA/Cambodia adoption being closed (yes I looked it up), I would never be able to take those kids as my own, yet I would cherish them in my heart.
I had allowed babies to be an idol in my heart. I needed to trust God with those Cambodian babies, just as I needed to trust God with the absence of a baby in my own life. I had to remember that God unconditionally loved those littles before I met them, just as He knows and loves the littles that will one day be entrusted to me. I need to trust God to protect, provide, and care for those littles just as I need to allow Him to do the same in my life.
Next, God brought to mind the Agape Employment Center (AEC) and how important it was for us to come along side the amazing work they are doing. We needed to use William + Leora to support their continual growth and sustainability in whatever way we could. I connected emotionally with that village in a powerful way—those disciples, those babies, those girls in the AEC, and those people in that community. There have been many barriers that we have allowed to distract us from this initiative, but we are putting aside those distractions and focusing our attention to this exciting new project. I am continually reminded by my genuine love for those who have had a lasting impact on me and hold a piece of my heart. God has shown us from the beginning of our journey that He is all powerful and in control. This is where He is working and we are excited to participate in it.
Lastly, I realized that before Cambodia my heart was not soft. I was emotionally turned off, protected and guarded. I needed to be broken, remaining moldable in the hands of the master, so He can craft me into who He has in mind for me. I am blemished and cracked by sin and the disappointments of life in this world, yet when I am filled with Christ, His light shines through my painful and empty places. I no longer feel the need to mask my weakness, putting my best side forward to hide the inevitable ugly. I now volunteer vulnerability and bring to light the painful parts to show how a loving God is actively healing and working in my life. Christ suffered first so that in our suffering we can come to him, His body was broken for us, and He died on the cross for us so that we could have life abundantly and eternally through a relationship with Him.
I sit here now at the corner of twenty-eight and child-less, and I choose to be thankful. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve a God whose thoughts are not my thoughts, and whose ways are not my ways. If I had my way, I imagine my life would look very different than it does now. I don't know that without the trial of infertility I would have turned to God and sought His purpose for my life. I don’t know that I would have co-founded William + Leora, or learned about human trafficking, sought out how to be involved with fighting against it, or even gone to Cambodia. I would have been fully absorbed in continually striving to achieve an unattainable picture-perfected lifestyle. This is the year, but I won’t be attending that 10-year reunion I had so perfectly planned out in my mind. I would love to catch up with old friends and see my distant besties, but it just so happens that on the exact day of the reunion, my husband and I will be boarding a plane to return to Cambodia. I don’t have those 4 biological babies to show off, but I have my brick factory babies I look forward to showering love and attention on. I don’t think that is coincidence; I think that it is strategic planning. I think that it is the everlasting love of a Father who has created each one of us for a special purpose; He empowers us to share this same love with those who need it the most. He knows our desires yet when we align ourselves with Him, He is able to do so much more than we could have ever dreamed possible.