What a Summer Book Club for Little Girls has to do with Justice

Part of our family’s mission statement is to “seek justice in our world.” It is probably this piece that we have most intentionally talked about and practiced as a family, mainly because of a journey we have been on discovering God’s heart for justice and opening our eyes to injustice in our world.

Compassion for the poor and powerless has long marked my heart, but this stirring of my soul for justice grew after I became a mom. Motherhood shook the carefully laid foundation of my life – suddenly I was no longer in control, my heart softened, the world grew larger, and the gravity of decisions weighed heavy. Life was absolutely full to the brim with monotonous messy chores and moments of crazy joy. And exhaustion. When my youngest was two, I had reached a point that seems to be common in many moms with young children – desperation. I felt like one of those rainbow-colored parachutes with handles that PE teachers or preschool teachers pull out once in a while to the glee of young children. All my roles were pulling me tight in different directions and I felt like I was going to tear.

At the same time, God was also doing a powerful work in my heart, drawing me closer to him, strengthening me where I was weak, and enlarging my heart for the things that matter to him – like justice and compassion. I came across a book written by Gary Haugen, the president of International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organization that rescues and restores victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression.  My kids were sleeping through the night at this point, so I had the mental clarity to read Haugen’s book, The Good News About Injustice. It profoundly impacted me. I felt outrage and grief over injustice in the world, amazed at the work of IJM, hopeful because of God’s heart for justice, and inspired to do something about it.

Initially, I despaired that I chose to become a speech-language pathologist instead of a lawyer or social worker for a career. Then I became discouraged because I didn’t think I had anything to offer – I was just an average woman in a small city with a husband, two kids, and a job – too busy, too boring, no connections. So I followed the example of Haugen and his IJM colleagues and I prayed.  I thanked God for sparking a passion inside of me for justice and asked him to show me how to work for justice, and contribute to the work of IJM, and to do it in a way that my little family could be on the journey with me. Within a short amount of time, God answered that prayer very clearly. The idea of a mother-daughter book club literally popped into my head one morning after meditating on a passage in Ephesians the night before: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).  And find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).

I began to think about my little children of light – the light of Jesus in our hearts and in our home, the light-filled existence of choice and freedoms and opportunities we enjoy, the love and passion I have for my kids. What if, together with some other moms and their daughters, we lived as children of light – teaching our girls about justice, compassion, courage, and love; and shed light on the darkness in our world in a way that was developmentally appropriate for our girls, drew others into the journey, and raised support for the important work that IJM is doing to fight against injustice and oppression in the world? The first “Summer Book Club for Little Girls” began to take shape.

This summer will be the fourth year we gather as moms and daughters to read and talk about books, discover what justice looks like in our home, community, and world, and together, raise awareness and funds to support International Justice Mission. Last summer we raised about $1600 by sewing and selling stuffed “Freedom Friends”, having a cookie and lemonade stand at a garage sale, and telling friends and family about our book club.

The last couple years, my son has lamented the injustice of not having a book club of his own, so this summer, my friend and I are launching a boys book club. I anticipate it being more active, noisy, and laden with great battles against injustice. I’m trying think of a way to convince them to sew “Freedom Friends” with us. Freedom Friend Ninjas? Robots? Superheroes? We shall see.

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The end-of-summer project capturing the theme of our book club, taken from “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes: “She was never going to stand by and say nothing again.”

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Gracie and her “Freedom Friend”

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These moms and girls sewed and sold more than 27 “Freedom Friends” because they want to help free some of the 27 million slaves in the world today, through the work of IJM

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Our Mission: Write a Mission Statement

A little over a year ago, John and I followed some smart people’s advice and set out to create a mission statement for our family (or maybe it was a purpose statement – I can’t remember the difference). We went out to dinner with a list of questions, and from our conversation and notes we identified some themes. Then we didn’t craft a mission statement. A few months later, another smart person asked us to help other people craft mission statements for their families and we went out to dinner again with a different set of questions, and this time we wrote a draft of our family’s mission statement (because we are both responsible rule-followers who like to help others).  Then we didn’t teach it to our kids or really talk about it to each other or anyone else for about a year (I thought about it a lot though, and changed parts of it without telling John). In January of this year, we went out to dinner again and I handed John our mission statement (my revised version) and suggested we talk about it again. He asked to see our first draft, which I conveniently did not bring. He still agreed to talk about it, surprisingly.

Now, sharing this mission statement here is something that the old Jenae would never have done. It would reveal to you what is really important to me, which is scary and makes me feel vulnerable. Right this second I want to start making excuses for and caveats to the mission statement. But, this is part of the light I need to let shine. I actually love having a mission statement. It gives us a grid through which our family can make choices, recognize and correct errors, and experience fruitfulness. It’s going to be the lens through which I think about what I write in this space. Putting it here will hopefully inspire me to teach it to my kids.

So here it is:

Because of who God is and what he has done, we will:

  • Love Sacrificially
  • Practice Grateful Joy
  • Pursue Wisdom with Humility
  • Seek Justice in our World

As we in Special Education always tell parents at IEP meetings – this is a draft. We can change this up at any time. I’m not painting it on the walls or ordering decals. It’s a working document. Ok. That feels better.