So now what?

So the Easter holiday has come and gone, lent has passed, and my bracket is done. Now what?

Well it appears to me that all of those are simply opportunities to get spiritual. They heighten our awareness of what we perceive is important to God or they replace God with religion or a worldly passion. Instead of Living On Target. (by Pastor Kelvin Smith > http://tiny.cc/vkzuuw)
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For me, going to church on Sunday is like half time of the big game. It is time to regroup, get built back up, and be encouraged to go out there and do it again. For me we are called to be “the church” every day; all day. Why? Because “we are the church” and we are here to help all in need around us, not just a select few.

Now, I have a personal relation with Jesus. You can too. God doesn’t want us to come by for a visit. He sent His son to die for us because He wants to spend time with us. He created us to be in relationship with Him. He is my friend, my helper, my Deliverer, my Savior.

We are not designed to go it alone. The world tells us “we can do it ourselves if we put our mind to it.” When you ask Jesus into your life, the wall between you and God comes down and the promise of Jesus is your’s. He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Religion cannot alleviate your loneliness. Beliefs can’t do it either. Only a person can do that; a person who will never leave you, never forsake you, no strings attached. That person is Jesus Christ.

We might like to think that our lives are all about us, but the reality is that all of our choices in life influence not only us, but the people around us. In the end our lives (and deaths) speak loudly of our love for, or rejection of, God.

Having troubles? God, our Father is standing there ready to help as only He can, but we have got to release any bitterness that is making our burden so much heavier. Why carry that load? Your Father wants to trade your troubles for His grace.

Yes, it’s a lonely world out there. And yes, you may walk on Lonely Street again? But the day you come to Jesus Christ is your last day alone. God never looks away from us or ignores us. He is always there watching over us and working things out in accordance with His plan. You may even feel that He is chasing you. He is, because He loves you and He wants you. He doesn’t need you. He wants you.

Once we come to know Jesus, it becomes all about Jesus and not about us. “Us” gets us in trouble. We are our own worst enemy in many cases. When you make choices with Jesus in your life He intercedes and helps you make those tough decisions. Remember, He will never leave you.
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Easter is the greatest day in a Christian’s life. Without His resurrection we are ALL lost. When we invite Jesus into our hearts, repent of our sins (and we all sin), and surrender our lives to Him, we are assured life… not death. By simply believing that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, we are guaranteed eternity with Him in heaven.

Won’t you consider giving your life to Him and begin living every day… all day with peace and harmony? If you are willing say this prayer. Either aloud or quietly in your heart. Be open and honest and say…

“Jesus, I am lost without you. I am sorry for my sins and want to follow you. I believe you God that you sent your son to die for my sins. I surrender my life to you and ask that you live in my heart. Change my heart. Thank you Jesus.”

If you prayed this, know that you are now a new believer in Christ. Your past is your past. That means it is behind you and there is no need to look in the rear view mirror.

Now, get connected with a local church. Remember, we are not wired to go it alone. There are people that God wants to connect you with all day… every day.

May His peace be with you and I’ll look forward to seeing you in heaven if not before.

In fact, maybe I’ll see you at half time. Go Saints!

Where was Jesus on Holy Saturday?

Sometimes I wonder when the Bible has gaps in time and isn’t very clear what really took place. Like Jesus’ childhood between His visit to the temple at age 12 (Luke 2:41-51) until His ministry started at age 30.

So what actually took place on Holy Saturday? (the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday)

Was this a day of rest for Jesus where He lay in a tomb? Or was He in a fight with Satan in which He clearly defeated death?
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The only biblical reference to what happened on the Saturday in between Jesus’ death and resurrection is found in Matthew 27:62-66. After sundown on Saturday—the end of the Sabbath—the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pontius Pilate and asked that a guard be placed at Jesus’ tomb to prevent His disciples from removing the body. They remembered Jesus saying that He would rise again in three days (John 2:19-21) and wanted to do everything they could to prevent that. We know from the succeeding accounts that the Roman guards were inadequate to prevent the resurrection and those who returned to the tomb Sunday morning found it empty. The Lord had risen.

What is your take?

Reference > http://www.BibleGateway.com (pick your translation of choice)

V-Day 2013

I get asked a lot if I like my job. I always reply with an emphatic “Yes!”

Once in awhile we all have experiences on our jobs that make us feel good. Because of the nature of what I do I am really lucky to have a gig that makes me feel that way a lot.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. For us guys that generally means an excuse to get our wife or girlfriend flowers or candy or both. Valentine’s Day is also a great opportunity to share your emotions with her, which she loves.

For women, Valentine’s Day is very important. This annual tradition recognizes her as the beauty that she is. We validate the importance of her existence in our lives. We remind her that we cannot live without her (or at least we admit we would be a mess without her).

Yesterday was also V-Day. What is V-Day and why is it significant? It gives women (and men by supporting women) an opportunity to stake a claim and have their voice heard. (http://www.vday.org/about)

In 1994, a play called The Vagina Monologues, was written by playwright and activist Eve Ensler. This ground breaking piece of political theater offered the world a piece of art like nothing it had seen before. Based on dozens of interviews Ensler conducted with women, the play addressed women’s sexuality and the social stigma surrounding rape and abuse.

Today, V-Day is a global activist movement that supports anti-violence organizations throughout the world, helping them to continue and expand their core work on the ground, while drawing public attention to the larger fight to stop worldwide violence (including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), sex slavery) against women and girls.

V-Day exists for no other reason than to stop violence against women. (http://www.vday.org/about)

One Billion Rising cites that one in three women and girls on the planet are raped or beaten in her lifetime. (http://www.onebillionrising.org)

On the 15th Anniversary of V-Day, a goal was set to have one billion women and those who love them participate in events to walk out, DANCE, RISE UP, AND DEMAND an end to this violence. One Billion Rising is a promise that we will rise up with women and men worldwide to say, “Enough! The violence ends now.” One Billion Rising asked every community to coordinate a Break The Chain event where local women (and men) could gather to RISE UP.

The Charlotte effort was lead by Brandy Stephens with Safe Alliance in partnership with the Mecklenburg County Women’s Commission (that’s where I come in). Brandy and Barbara Patterson lead the charge getting coaches, sound equipment and motivating their folks to come out and be one of those one billion women to rise. I helped by securing the location, Freedom Park, and getting the word out through email and social media besides just being a general support.

I work a lot with Safe Alliance (http://www.SafeAlliance.org) and other domestic violence service providers and advocates in efforts like this to raise the banner of “zero tolerance for violence against women and girls.” For me, any way we can get a life line out to a victim in the form of resources is a good thing. So many victims are held captive in their own home while being fed the lie that they are all alone and no one really cares about them. Well, I’m here to tell you that we are ALL here to help.

In the United States, we know that 95% of the reported cases of domestic violence or “intimate partner violence” it is men that are beating their wives or their girlfriends. (What is Domestic Violence? http://bit.ly/ovwvdn)

Did you know that on average; almost 500 women a day are raped or sexually assaulted in the United States. In other parts of the world it is much higher. For example, India reports one rape every 18 minutes.

From my perspective, we can save victims from their abusers all day long getting them to shelters or services. But if we do not address the men that are perpetrating these crimes we just promote another victim by letting him move on to another relationship.

Our problem men, becomes a need to learn how to speak up for ALL women and girls by calling out our brothers when they are inappropriate instead of ignoring it. Our silence is just as deadly because it condones their actions.

There is a myth out there that all men are the problem. If you account for our silence that may be in the neighborhood of the truth, but in reality it is closer to 20 to 35%; depending on who you listen to. What that tells me is that at least two out of three guys are not abusing their wives and girlfriends. We need to help those two men gain their voice as well. On a promising note, there is tangible evidence that more men are stepping up to the plate. That’s good.

Yesterday for me was awesome from a couple of fronts. One, I felt I was in my element.

Do you ever feel like you are right where you are supposed to be? So often I feel that God has placed me right in the middle of this issue supporting all women to simply bring a male’s voice to the table. It felt great yesterday to support those women and be able to apologize to them for all of the abuse they may have experienced at the hands of the men in their lives. (Not taking the blame for their abuse, but simply representing the two out of three that don’t abuse)

BTC Charlotte Yesterday I discovered that another role for me is to share my story. This is a challenge because it requires me to be vulnerable. That is not a very comfortable place for a lot of men. Looking back though, I can now see how God has personally exposed me to different types of abuse which has instilled the compassion that I now I feel for all victims.

I grew up in a very large family of eleven kids. Seven of them are sisters so I learned how to stand in line for the bathroom pretty early.

When I was ten, one of my sisters was 13 and in the 7th grade. She was coming into her own and getting out in her new Junior High School world. Her natural beauty radiated an air of sensuousness around her.

My parents were connected with the local Catholic diocese and invited a maintenance guy from the Catholic University to our house to help with a couple of projects needing repair. While he was working at our home he found an opportunity to take some liberties with my sister and clearly took advantage.

This was frightening for her and very confusing. Due to my parents’ inability to speak with their children about sex in a healthy way, they responded completely off base causing her even greater confusion. Instead of taking this guy out back and beating him within an inch of his life, they blamed my sister for being “too promiscuous” saying she brought it on herself. WOW!

How often do we hear examples of this still today? It seems constantly that victims are being re-victimized by the system with the burden of proof being placed on them instead of holding the abuser accountable for their actions. In like fashion, my dad did not have a clue how to hold this guy accountable so he didn’t confront him. It was easier for dad to react unjustly to my sister because her sensuality represented something or someone that scared him.
rebecca-schaeffer Twenty years later, another glimpse of abuse came when I was working in the TV and Film industry in the form of stalking. My very first job at Warner Bros. in Burbank, CA was as a Production Assistant on a show called My Sister Sam. It was a sitcom starring Pam Dawber and Rebecca Schaeffer as her kid sister. The show only ran for two seasons.

Shortly after the series was canceled, Rebecca Schaeffer became a spokesperson for Thursday’s Child, a charity for at-risk teens. Later that year her stalker appeared at her door posed as a flower delivery driver. Twenty minutes after signing an autograph for him she abruptly told him she was busy. He took it as a personal affront and pulled a gun from a brown bag he was carrying and shot her in the chest. She died on the pavement in front of her new Hollywood apartment. It became apparent later that her killer had been stalking her since the inception of the show in 1986. Tragic!

All of us (men and women) need to address abuse in hopes of turning the tide of violence against women and girls. Will you help?

Please consider getting involved in your local communities. There are programs and service providers helping victims in shelters, court rooms, hospitals, in your neighborhoods, and in their own homes. There are so many forms of abuse that you can help raise awareness of whether it be domestic violence (“intimate partner violence”), sexual abuse, sex trafficking, or exploitation.

If you are one to pray, ask God to reveal where you may be needed. If you don’t know what you are called to do, He will help you figure that out too. If you think I can help you get connected somewhere, somehow then please send me a message on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MikeSextonNC or send me an email to Michael.Sexton@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov.

If you are being abused in your relationship please call for help. The abuse does not have to be physical to be criminal. It always starts with verbal and emotional abuse. Please find out what you can do to protect yourself and get to a place of safety in case it gets real dangerous.

HOTLINES: The National Hotline is 800-799-SAFE (7233). They can connect you with services anywhere in the country. In Charlotte call the Shelter For Battered Women 24-hour hotline at 704-332-2513.

The Women’s Commission can help you with understanding what you are dealing with, assess how lethal your situation may be, and help you set up a safety plan. You can reach them Monday through Friday, 8AM to 5PM at 704-336-3210.

For me, God’s greatest command on our lives is to love one another. When wearing those lenses the answer to this issue is an understanding that we are here to lift each other up. It is not about tearing each other down so we feel better about ourselves. In the simplest terms, that means we are here to help each other.

God has shown me that when I am stepping out in faith with Him, I cannot lose. With His guidance and protection, and my obedience to what He is asking me to do, He insures me that I am right where He needs me to be.

With that focus every encounter has a purpose. Every conversation is a divine appointment and that always makes me feel good.

For me, this gig is more than a job. It is my calling.

My Buddy Max

I have been back to work for nearly a week now after a world wind trip to Nepal and Bangladesh and I’m still dragging. My weariness is partly due to jetlag and mostly due to lack of sleep caused by a common cold and nagging cough.

My dog Max though reminded me this morning that my condition could always be worse. You see Max is a 16 year old toy poodle weighing in at eight pounds soaking wet. He is nearly blind due to cataracts, cannot hear a thing, and has to deal constantly with 12 pounds of constant terror in the form of a puppy named Ollie.
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Just coming in the back door, Max has to negotiate getting past Ollie who has assumed the pounce position. Any opportunity to maul his older brother is fun for Ollie.

All the while, Max just does his thing. He waits until Ollie gets bored and flies past him before Ollie realizes he missed.

Max has not been the brightest bulb over the years. His brother Niko (who we lost last November) used to hide his own treats and then come steal Max’s. Niko used to let Max fetch whatever was hurled across the room only to have Niko take it from him just before returning it to the hurler.

Just the same, Max would just do his thing.
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What is Max’s thing? He is patient and he is a cuddler. Of all his personality quirks, Max’s greatest gift is his love. He gives it away like a bee makes honey. All he has to do is a few butt ups for a back scratch and the opportunity to snuggle. He waits and waits and waits. Then he just nestles alongside you insuring he has contact somewhere with someone.

How does this help me in my state of fatigue? Max reminds me that all God asks from us is to operate out of the gifts He has given us.

Max does that every day.

All day.

Back To Reality

I got back to Charlotte about 11:30AM on Saturday and I’ve been dragging ever since. Man… 39 hours of travel will make you delirious.
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My sweet wife took me to breakfast even though it was noon here and 11PM where I had just come from. There is nothing like blueberry pancakes and crispy bacon to welcome a guy home.

Fighting through the process of unpacking including starting laundry I found myself wanting to take a nap. That was probably not the best thing for me to do since I needed to get back to normal, but boy, it sure was tempting.

Working on about four hours of sleep over the past two days I had to fight through it. “Keep busy” kept echoing through my mind. “Keep busy!”

A nice warm shower was helpful and what a delight. We are so blessed to have running water let along it be warm. I soaked for quite a while.

Once all my stuff was unpacked and sorted into stacks I threw in a load of whites and headed out to run a few errands with Lisa. It was nice to just be hangin’ with her again. I missed her cutting wit and her piercing smile.

Soon it was 6PM and my goal became survive until 8 o’clock. Like my 80 year old friend’s daily ritual, I was looking to make it through Wheel of Fortune before the shutters came down. At 7:30PM even a dip in the hot tub seemed to be a chore and that is saying something.

Ahhhh, 8PM is finally here and I forgot how nice a sheet warmer can be and how comfortable it is to sleep in your own bed. Soft linens and fluffy pillows.

Ten hours of sleep later I still felt groggy. Went to church and visited with a lot of friends that were praying for me on this trip. I am a lucky man to have so many great and caring friends.

Lisa is on a mission to find a TV stand for our new 40 inch HDTV we bought ourselves for Christmas. That took all afternoon. We prepared ourselves with a trip to Shomar’s for a grilled chicken sandwich and a strawberry milkshake. Good stuff.

I fought through dinner due to simple fatigue. It had nothing to do with Lisa’s cooking although stir fry from a bag is not real stir fry, especially after eating real Chinese food in South Central Asia for the past two weeks.

I found myself missing my traveling sisters. We had so much fun dealing with worldviews so much different than our own. In no particular order I miss Jessica keeping us on track, Elizabeth’s disarming sense of humor, Nicole’s little dance “getting jiggy with it,” Laura’s amazing ability to cite information on almost any given topic off the top of her head, Meredith’s sweet nature and Julie’s contagious laugh.
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So, now here I am on Monday morning feeling drugged from sleep trying to get motivated to go to the office. Back to reality! No more climbing into a van to be escorted from meeting to meeting. No more comp lunches from NGOs and aspiring politicians. No more “Out of office” messages to deflect email and phone calls.

Now it gets real!

Guys… please keep the prayers coming?

Thanks To My Traveling Sisters

I am still in the process of traveling home now with all flights behind me except a 90 minute hop from Dulles to Charlotte, NC. No challenges after more than 36 hours in airports that started at 8:30PM on Thursday. It is now 9AM in Washington, DC.
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Every check in and transfer went smoothly until I hit stateside. The snag came with United losing one of my bags which we were able to intercept on its way to US Airways. Not a big deal except for a short connection to Charlotte.

My friend and Legislative Fellows’ coordinator on this trip, Jessica, stood by me all the way insuring I was on my way home before heading home herself. I was hesitant to ask, but the nearly forty travelers in line for final clearance to the gate were cordial and accommodating as I moved to the head of the line.

The hustling and jumping to the head of security lines proved to be an exercise when shortly after arriving at the gate it was announced the flight to Charlotte is delayed an hour. Now I wait.

I don’t know how many of you have traveled overseas, but the flight home always seem to take forever. There is nothing like getting home to the security of our own homes, dreams of sleeping in our own beds, and being with the ones we love the most. I’m ready to get there.

All in all though, this trip has been very smooth and drama free. There are always challenges with international travel that we cannot foresee. The only other situation that could be considered a snag would be the check in process in Dhaka when the check in clerk tried to finagle some extra cash for our extra bags. This was another valid reason to travel light.

When traveling in groups there are extra challenges that arise, especially when all the parties in the group begin the journey as strangers. This group was great.
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There were six women in our group leaving me the only male. They were all young enough to be my daughters, which was a reality check in itself. How did I get here so fast? Along with Jessica who kept us all on task and insured our smooth sailing the entire way, the others were made up of very successful women.

Each and every one of them inspired me. They were passionate about their work and were willing to share their experiences as world travelers. They each had a clear message to convey to our new partners in this new world we found ourselves entrenched in.

Each and every one of them was fun and felt free to express their feelings about any given issue or situation we found ourselves in. It became very clear early on that we were all willing to help each other along the way.

The drawback with taking a trip like this is you live together for a full couple of weeks and suddenly it is over. We find ourselves back home in our regular routines.

I feel amiss because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to each of them since we disembarked our flight together and then found ourselves scrambling to the next flight taking us to our respective homes. We spent nine hours in Dubai as we waited for our flight to Washington, DC having fun and reminiscing, but I didn’t tell me individually how much I appreciated them. I figured I had plenty of time with the upcoming 15 hour flight.

We all promised to stay in touch and I hope we do.

Thanks ladies for an amazing journey. I’m sorry I didn’t give you a hug goodbye. Please know this, you all were a very big part of this magical experience for me. This journey would not have been as impactful without you.

Life as usual?

There is something to be said about visiting three cities in two weeks. Some would call it ambitious. Some might call it crazy. I call it amazing.

In the past 16 days I have been to Dubai twice, Kathmandu and Dhaka. A week each in Nepal and Bangladesh. A blur. A vapor. Soon to be only memories.

Great memories I may add, including fun with six amazing women. All very accomplished and inspiring because of their passion for the people they help. Newly found friendships that I will cherish.

I am very excited to get home to see my beautiful wife, the puppies and to sleep in my own bed, but…

How do I go back to life as usual when I now know there are millions of people in Nepal without electricity 12 hours out of the day?

How do justify letting the tap water run freely when I have had to brush my teeth using a cup because water is so scarce, let alone clean enough to drink from the tap in both Nepal and Bangladesh?

How do I go into a grocery store and not feel overwhelmed by the choices we are so accustomed to in the United States.
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Are we spoiled? Yes.

Are we ungrateful? Sometimes.

Are we blessed? Always.

I have spoken with so many people that have traveled abroad to under developed countries and they all say the same thing. “Seeing how people survive will change your perspective.” In my heart this trip has change my life.

My greatest fear heading into this trip was the potential exposure to the reality of real poverty. I was afraid of the possible heartache. Once realized, I didn’t realize how deep people could go into a this abyss.

We barely scratched the surface only traveling a couple dozen kilometers outside the capitals of these countries. In both cases running water was not an option. Homes were mere shelters not much bigger than a tent accommodating multiple generations of families.
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Being perfectly honest, I get annoyed by lack of space in my 1,800 square foot home. Not today though. Not after seeing how the majority of the 160 million people live in Bangladesh. Not after seeing homes shared with wild stock in the villages of Nepal. Not after seeing the remnants of a burnt out garment factory where more than a hundred lives were lost.

My prayer is I never forget and that I remember how lucky I am to live in a country that I do not always agree with.

One thing is for sure. We are all blessed to even have creature comforts let alone a bathroom indoors. We do not comprehend what it like to live without heat after dark on cold damp nights.

Thank you Lord for putting me in a place where I can live beyond my means. Please help me stay humble and grounded and content with what you have so freely provided me.