Venture Washington Run

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I learned long ago that I process life through writing. Before law school, this came easy. I could sit in a coffee shop,  and words would practically jump onto the page. It was effortless, and by the end, I had a better understanding of myself and the season I was walking through at that time. I would exhale a sigh of relief and feel confident that I could face my day with greater understanding of my spiritual, emotional, and physical health, and with greater sensitivity to what God was trying to teach me.

When law school began, extracurricular writing went out the window. My words became fewer and writing in solitude became more of a chore and brought much less joy.  My anxiety and stress increased exponentially as the pressure of law school fully consumed me, steadily chipping away at my spirit, emotions, and body. While slowly crumbling internally, I steadily built walls around my heart and spirit to protect myself from appearing weak or like I did not belong.

As fear overwhelmed me daily, I did not use the same cathartic writing process to gain a deeper understanding of myself. As a result, I did not exhale the same sigh of relief that came with feeling close to the Father’s heart through solitude, and I slowly became distant. My relationship with Him became stale and dry.

One year ago today, Andrew and I finished the Bar exam. I knew this would mark the start of a new beginning (assuming we passed, of course). On the week of the exam, I was so anxious that I developed stress hives. I couldn’t sleep, I lost my appetite, and I was absolutely distressed. I did everything the bar prep course called me to do (and then some), but I had no confidence in my ability to pass.

Fast forward – Andrew and I got married a month later. We both passed the Bar and became licensed attorneys. I started my first legal job, working with people with disabilities who have been sexually abused or sex trafficked in Illinois (exactly what I hoped to do entering law school). Slowly, a new normal began to set, but I continued to feel a little distant and not fully myself.

Right in the thick of trying to figure out this new normal, Andrew and I committed to running across the state of Washington with Venture  to help provide food for refugees in southeast Asia at the border of Thailand and Myanmar.

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Many of you remember my first Venture trip in 2012, a cycling trip benefiting International Justice Mission where we rode from Cincinnati, Ohio to IJM’s headquarters in Washington D.C. This trip was life-changing for me in many ways. Most importantly, it introduced to me to my Venture family and over the last 5 years, this family has taught me what it means to live in raw community.

THIS is what I have longed for every year since that bike trip in 2012, but my health and schedule would not allow another trip. I longed to return to my community, to build a larger community with new teammates, and to share this dear part of my story with Andrew.

So we did it. This month, we ran an epic relay across Washington.

17 teammates
350 miles run together
100 miles run individually

We returned on Sunday night, and I have had trouble processing. I sat down today and tried to figure out why, and that when I just started to write.

And write.

And write.

Words came a little easier today.

This trip was different from the cycling trip. I think primarily, because I am in a completely different stage of life. Before, I was fresh out of undergrad. I just moved from California to Chicago, and the world was incredibly exciting. I was supposed to start law school after the cycling tour, and I was off chasing big dreams. I was going to change the world, or else! I was in the best physical shape of my life, and I felt incredibly close to Jesus – I believed deeply that I was following his call in my life. It was all. so. good.

Going into this trip, I did not realize how much baggage I was carrying from the last several years until a few days into the trip.

I was tired. I was tired emotionally from work, physically from training, and spiritually from a season of dryness.

I was frustrated. I was frustrated because despite months and months of training, my body responded so much differently to the physical exertion. Being the stubborn person I am, this was emotionally taxing. Without my thyroid, I have little-to-no control over my energy levels, I am always very warm, and my thyroid medication makes my heart rate skyrocket and take a very long time to recover. I get frustrated having so little control over my body.

Yet, I also felt incredibly guilty when I felt these things, as one our sweet leaders ran our tour while fighting her own cancer battle. It felt so inappropriate for me to feel this way and I tried to suppress these thoughts and feelings.

I was sad. I was sad, because I was faced with the lingering pain related to my friend Sean’s murder. I shared his story on one of our runs, and I realized how much pain I continue to feel remembering his life and mourning his death.

I was confused. I was confused, because this new season of life has brought more questions than answers. Wasn’t everything supposed to fall into place after law school? Everything is supposed to make sense now, right? My legal fellowship is almost half over. What is next? Where will I work when this is over? Where will we live? Other big life questions were on repeat in my mind.

This trip slowly broke down my walls. My teammates were gracious with my whirlwind of emotions (thank you). We shared our testimonies in small groups as we ran. I talked about parts of my story that I never really talked about and shared memories that carried deep pain and deep shame for me. My teammates – my family – listened with open ears and gracious hearts. I felt the steady kneading of my heart and soul throughout the week. I felt my spirit lifting and re-opening, slowly, but steadily. I felt tender (something I have not been able to feel for years).

On my toughest day, we were at our housing site in Tacoma, Washington. Our leaders felt the weight of the day and thought we should do something a little different that evening. They asked Andrew, Anna, and I to lead worship for the group in the chapel. The three of us pulled together three songs (“Good Good Father,” “King of My Heart,” and “What A Beautiful Name”) in a few minutes. I played piano, Anna and I sang, and Andrew played bass on the organ. Our team sang and prayed. It was raw. It was real. Something shifted, and my heart softened a little more.

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I still couldn’t process that evening until our last day. We debriefed as a team and attended church at Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon. That morning, they sang “King of My Heart,” and I could feel the Spirit moving in our team that morning, and it brought me back to that chapel a few nights before.

This is the start of a new season. A season that will be filled with more writing and intentional solitude. A season where I will allow myself to sit in tenderness, allow myself to feel deeply, and allow myself to break down these walls. It is time to lean in.

Thank you Andrew, for going on this adventure with me. Thank you for always being my biggest fan and for loving me even on my worst days. Thank you for seeing my needs before I even have a voice to share them. I am incredibly lucky to share life with you, and I am so thankful this trip is now part of our story. I love you.

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Thank you team, for being so gracious with me. Thank you for making me laugh and for loving me well. Thank you for authentically leaning into Jesus and bringing me back to a tender place where I am better equipped to receive God’s love and give it out to others. As I continue to break down these walls I’ve built over the last few years, I will continue to think of you, to pray for you, and to love you.  Love, #2.20258049_10211704193458023_8868989911479272855_n

 

 

Why I March

This is not a political post.

This weekend, I marched in the Women’s March in Chicago. Well, I guess we never marched, because over 250,000 showed up, and it wasn’t possible to march. So we rallied. And rallied. And rallied.

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It is no surprise that this presidential election was impressively divisive, and there is great tension in our country. However, what I experienced at the March on Saturday was that women [and men] across all ideologies can still come together in unity. 

Did I agree with every sign displayed? No. Does that matter? No.

More than anything, the courage of 250,000 around me helped me face a shadow in my past for the first time. On Saturday, I decided to share something deeply personal for the first time publicly: I was sexually assaulted when I was 18 years-old. Typing those words makes me cringe. It is embarrassing, and I have written and erased these words again and again and again.

I did not realize until Saturday, that keeping this a secret and continuing to blame myself 9 years later is not healthy and in fact, it feels dishonest. As an advocate for people who have experienced sexual violence, it is time to own that experience. Even as I type this I keep justifying his behavior and thinking about what I could have done differently. This has to stop. The normalization of violence against women in our culture, especially by men in power, is something we all need to challenge daily.

This is why I march. We must do better. Our leaders must do better.

 

 

You are not an island… You are not lost.

In September, I began my two-year Equal Justice Works fellowship sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP to provide outreach and advocacy to people with disabilities to help this vulnerable population be free from sexual abuse and sex trafficking. My host organization is Equip for Equality, a nonprofit legal aid organization with a mission to advance the human and civil rights of people with disabilities.

Nearly four years ago, I realized people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to human trafficking and that there had been very little conversation beyond the summary issue statement. I was certain God was stirring this up in my heart.

I decided I wanted to create this fellowship to work directly on this issue and to creatively problem solve how to protect this vulnerable population from exploitation here in the US, especially here in Illinois and my beloved city Chicago.

I was thrilled and determined when I received the funding for this fellowship and was pumped to get started. But friends, I have to admit something. Creating something out of nothing is incredibly challenging, and I have struggled with immense self-doubt and worry that I will fail to make any impact over the next couple of years. #ThankYouLawSchoolForInsecurities

I felt alone and some days only my stubbornness to “make it work” kept me going. But then I received an email from a dear friend which seemed to change the direction of the wind:

You are not an island, you are not isolated, you are not lost – God is with you in each and every step. I am praying for clear direction, creative ideas, impactful relationships, much patience as you continue to learn and grow, and the deep, deep need to lean on your Heavenly Father as he carries you through this period of life. I also pray over your marriage, that the stresses and heartache that undoubtedly comes with your job is received with grace and compassion at home and with your husband.

Can I get an Amen?! That email was sent about a week ago, and I have printed it and placed it on my bulletin board at my office so I see it daily. You know what is amazing? That day, something shifted.

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Since then, I received my first potential client referral. I also did my first substantive training on these issues to the Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council. They were incredibly encouraging and indicated the need for education into these issues within the disability community.

Then this week, I met a senior attorney part of a national disability rights organization who happened to be visiting from Washington DC, happened to already be on his way to our office to meet with another attorney, happened to be told that morning about my project by another organization and happened to be very interested in how we can work together on bringing national attention to this issue. [[read Jesus did this]]

And last night, I received the following email from a man in Korea:

Dear Lydia Sharp…

I heard that you are studying the trafficking of persons with disabilities. I am also a researcher of that issue. In 2014, Korean society was very shocked by ‘Salt farm slavery issue’.

I spent two months to investigate that trafficking issue. With the local police, I’d [found] the place of problem and investigated the issue, rescued the victims.

After that, I wrote some research papers about that issue. I recognized that Korean Society has no solution to solve that problem. The court punished most perpetrators very lightly, and released most of them. The victims became homeless without any support.

I approached that issue with the US Embassy in Seoul and reflected it in the [Trafficking in Persons] report [in] 2014 of US Department of State. And I visited the United States this year, invited by the US Department of State.

I am very glad that you are studying the problem of trafficking of persons with disabilities. Trafficking of persons with disabilities [is] very serious problem, but trafficking and disability are not being discussed together. The Palermo Protocol also does not reflect a disability perspective.

The problem of trafficking of persons with disabilities in Korea has not been solved yet. And I think it is the same worldwide. If you need additional information, I would like to help you, and I hope to exchange information and exchange continuously.

I mean, Wow! This man’s life work is unparalleled and his willingness to connect and collaborate across the world is just unbelievable. It helps cast away lingering self-doubt and insecurity in pursuing this unclear road. 

I not an island. 

I am not isolated. 

I am not lost. 

God is with me in each and every step. 

It will be difficult and it will take time, but I am confident this is where I am supposed to be.

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Four years later

Four years ago, I could not have predicted I would be sitting in a luxury hotel room in Washington DC after completing three full days of leadership training to launch my public interest law career.

Four years ago, I just compimg_6920leted quarantine for radiation treatment (which would fail), and I was adjusting to life without a thyroid. I was tired, and I was lonely in a city full of people. I was anxious to be in school, and I hated feeling like I was behind where I wanted to be.

Four years ago, I also could not have predicted I would meet my husband seven months later when I started law school (again). Yet, here we are.

As you can tell, I just changed the look of my site a little bit, and I updated my name. In law school, my blogging was rare, because…… law school. Now that I am out of school and settling into real life, I am hoping to get back into writing.

For now, here is a quick life update.

Andrew and I took the Bar exam July 26-27 and one month later, we got married on August 28 at Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, Illinois. The wedding was truly everything we could have hoped for and more. We had an intimate wedding, and people traveled from across the country to share in our day. We were loved so well.

The day after our wedding, we went to Switzerland for our honeymoon. We spent 10 days traveling through the country and its beauty exceeded our already high expectations.

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On September 12, I started my Equal Justice Works fellowship, sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, at Equip for Equality. Through this fellowship, I get the privilege to start my legal career doing exactly what I want to do. I am advocating for people with disabilities to be free from human trafficking and sexual abuse.

On September 30, Andrew and I learned we both passed the Illinois Bar exam! Thank God. It feels surreal to settle into our marriage and our jobs knowing we will never test again. As a result, we have been able to volunteer more readily and fully in our church community and to offer our time in ways we have not been able to in three years. We love Chicago, and we love serving in our community.

So much can happen in a few short years and so much has happened. Thank you all for continuing this journey with me. I am excited to dive into this new chapter and to see where it leads.

 

 

Legs and Lungs of Endurance

 

“The victims of injustice in our world do not need our spasms of passion; they need our long obedience in the same direction – our legs and lungs of endurance;
And we need sturdy stores of joy. ”
Gary Haugen

Many of you know my story. Many of you know I came to law school after a trip to the Dominican Republic and a desire to advocate for people to be free from sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Over the last three years, I steadily developed my dream Equal Justice Works fellowship proposal through internships, research, and volunteering. I made every decision to further my project.

I submitted my project for consideration almost one year ago. I tried not to get my hopes up. I knew it was a long-shot and there would be so many well-deserving projects. In November, four months after submitting my application, I received the exciting call to interview with a large law firm interested in potentially sponsoring my project. I was ecstatic.

I did three mock interviews, created the perfect handout, went to the interview, presented my project to a room of 8 attorneys, answered questions, and walked out feeling fantastic. Could this finally be happening?

I received a call weeks later. They chose another project. I was heartbroken.

This would happen two more times. The mantra become receive the call – participate in mock interviews – defend my project at the interview – receive excellent feedback – wait three weeks – receive a denial. Each time, I became more and more discouraged.

After three interviews, there was six months of silence. The interviews were to be done in April, so I knew the end was near, and I needed to start coping. So I did. I started to mourn the loss of a dream. As with any kind of grief, I went through moments of sadness, moments of denial, moments of anger, and moments of acceptance. I poured everything into this project. Was it worth it?

In May, Andrew and I graduated from law school. We celebrated the much-anticipated completion of our academic careers and savored the day before diving completely into studying for the Bar exam where we remain until the end of July.

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One week into Bar prep I received another phone call. Another firm was interested in my project, and they wanted me to interview a few days later. I was shocked. I was fully immersed in Bar prep and was not prepared to re-visit my proposal and defend my project in front of another panel of attorneys. I had already walked through all of the stages of grief telling myself this was over, and it was time to move on.

It’s funny how life works in those ways. I spent the weekend reacquainting myself with my project and remembering all of the sweat and tears I put into this project. I knew this was really my last shot. I walked out of the interview feeling confident but also content. I knew I was prepared for whatever happened.

Yesterday, I accepted an offer from Greenberg Traurig to sponsor my fellowship. Beginning this fall, I will be working at Equip for Equality for two years advocating for people with disabilities to be free from sexual abuse and human trafficking. This is it. I cannot believe it is happening, and I am so incredibly humbled by the opportunity. I am anxious to get started and so excited to see what the future holds.

I will sing of all You’ve done
I’ll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end

 

2015 Highlights and Grief

This was a huge year. Some of the highlights include becoming cancer-free for the first time in three years, running my first half marathon, accidentally winning a Bahamas cruise (seriously, ask me about it), and getting engaged.

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Such a big year ended on a difficult note when one of my best friends was murdered. I still manage to deny he is gone, and I don’t know when that will change. The funny thing about grief is each time feels like you are experiencing it for the first time, and the coping mechanisms you  learned from prior experiences do you little good. It is raw. It is organic. It is inexplicable.

When I am surrounded by people who knew Sean, loved him, and miss him dearly, it is easier for me to keep emotional distance from his absence. Their memories keep him present, and we laugh remembering all that he was to us.

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But when I’m alone, that is when it becomes more real. I see his name on my speed dial and realize I can’t call him. I see his name on our wedding guest list and realize he won’t be there. I look at pictures from our Boulder visit this summer and realize it was the last time I saw him, and I will never see him again. One of my happiest memories is now colored with deep sadness.

I have a special waterproof mascara reserved for biopsy days, and I’ve worn it almost every day since Sean’s passing. Slowly, I’ve been able to wean myself off with some certainty I will make it through a day without weeping. Some days I make it, other days I don’t. Breathe in, breathe out.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I am thankful for Sean’s friendship and all of the years I got to spend with him. I am thankful for his humor, his intelligence, and his loyalty. I am thankful he called me friend for 14 years and made sure I knew I was valued. I am also thankful he and Andrew got to meet.

Next year will be an even bigger year. Andrew and I will graduate law school in May, take the Bar exam in July, get married in August, and honeymoon in Switzerland! It is going to be a whirlwind, and I cannot wait.

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“Cancer-free!”

Yesterday, May 28, 2015, my endocrinologist came into the room and said:

Are you ready for a party?

For the first time in nearly three years, my thyroglobulin levels showed “undetectable” thyroid cancer. We will meet again in six months to see if anything changes, and if not, I will shift to yearly check ups.

I don’t know if I believe it.

It’s been a crazy three years. Four surgeries, unsuccessful radioactive iodine treatment, extensive nerve damage throughout my neck and right shoulder (which continues to get better), low energy, little metabolism, hundreds of needles, etc.

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I am not the person I was when all of this began. I’ve tried to think of how to tell you how this experience has changed me, but I can’t find the words. All I know is 25 year-old Lydia is completely different from 22 year-old Lydia.

I’m overwhelmed looking back at all that has happened, and all of the people who have come alongside me from every part of my life. Thank you. Importantly, I also have a community from around the world who I connected with on Instagram right after diagnosis. It may sound so silly, but they changed everything. I know their stories, and they know mine. Our struggles, our triumphs…my little support group. Sometimes social media can be–dare I say–beautiful.

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I can’t wait to see where life goes from here, without so many interruptions. I am still learning how to live in this new body, figuring out how to maximize energy and metabolism. Now, I can do this without any setbacks!

I can’t wait to dive into my final year of law school and to be fully present. What a change! I can breathe deeper already.

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for your faithfulness.