I’ve been quiet for a while. The last six months, I’ve continued coaching with my incredibly inspiring clients (who probably grow and stretch me in the most amazing ways, but that’s a different blog post), but God intentionally temporarily shifted my efforts to my side hustle: my volunteer-turned-part time job-hunting pedophiles for the state of Hawaii.
After sitting down with partner agencies and listening to their needs and goals, my boss and I set out on an ambitious goal: bring all the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies with a stake in the anti-child sexual exploitation mission together as part of a mass and short-term operation to arrest adults seeking to have sex with minors and identify/rescue child victims previously victimized by these people. With only two of us running this massive endeavor, my boss focused on providing strategic funding, training, and program management oversight while I focused on the tactical operational requirements. We brought the partners together and put out the invitation: everyone wants to do this operation, but no one has all the requisite resources. We provide the funding; you provide the manpower. Bring us what an absolute “win” looks like for your agency, and we will do our very best to incorporate it into the plan.
A couple months into the planning phase, a senior state law enforcement official looked me point blank in the eye and told me that, in his 25 years with the state, this had never been done before. No one had ever brought 12 law enforcement agencies together to conduct an operation on this scale in any mission set. The admission stunned me -- more so because joint operations are incredibly common in most other parts of the country. I think I mumbled something about it being a team effort while awkwardly brushing the compliment off my shoulder and moving on to the next fire to put out.
For four months, I worked on this project non-stop following guidance from God to put marketing and sales efforts on a strategic pause (which was REALLY hard to do). I knew from previous experience that the biggest battle would be spiritual, and I did my absolute best to start every day by putting my armor on. There were days where the logistical burden seemed too big -- I had to trust God would provide, and He was faithful. Other days, the spiritual attacks kept me in a private war waged entirely in the battlefield of my mind. The only way to describe it is as if a black slime was trying to engulf me. My quiet times and non-stop listening to Skillet were the only things that really got me through. And if the logistics of buying tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, securing a command post, and identifying the right people and putting them into the right positions wasn’t hard enough, I also had to manage the various personalities involved with interacting with 12 agencies. And if you’ve ever worked in law enforcement and with lawyers, you know that often times, massive egos can disrupt any good endeavor the same way a well placed criminal snitch can…and they certainly tried.
The time finally came, and Operation Keiki (“child” in Hawaiian) Shield kicked off. 85 law enforcement, legal, intel analyst, and support staff covering federal, state, and local jurisdictions converged on an undisclosed location on Oahu. We flew investigators in from other islands and even California. Five of our brothers from the Washington State Patrol’s Mission and Exploited Children Task Force -- who have been conducting Operation Net Nanny going on three years yielding 300+ arrests and 30+ rescued children -- flew in to share lessons learned and ensure we didn’t make the same mistakes they had. I’ve heard it said that sometimes we encounter angels in disguise here on earth, and there have definitely been times where I felt like these men and women were it.
To ensure we built a solid foundation for future operations, the agencies agreed to start small: five federal arrests, and five state arrests. I previously worked Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) cases ten years ago when I was stationed in Japan. Not much shocks me, but I was astounded at how quickly suspects responded to the messages and wanted to move to meet. In one instance, it was a total of 25 minutes from the time a chat started to when he got arrested -- Twenty. Five. Minutes. We reached our goal, and have since arrested seven additional suspects including a retired police officer, military members, and other persons in positions of public trust. It was deemed a success.
After the gear had been put away, I got in my car, drove home…and felt absolutely nothing. No joy at what God had been able to accomplish through me. No sadness for the suspects whose sin had caught up to them. No sense of accomplishment.
It’s been two months. I should’ve been telling everyone about God’s goodness and provision. How leading up to the op, I could clearly see how God used 15 years of scary and painful professional experiences to prepare me for this. All those years of wondering “why” I was in a particular place or “what” God was trying to teach me…it had all made sense. Years of SUPER AWKWARD liaison experiences with other law enforcement agencies taught me how to effectively build relationships. Bodyguarding taught me a few things: 1) God can literally use anyone to accomplish his goals…who would’ve thought this 5’3” girl would be a bodyguard for the most senior Air Force official? 2) I’ve met senior US and foreign government official, Ministers of Defense, celebrities, etc -- they all put their pants on the same way I do. There was literally no need to fear anyone but God. My most painful employment experience was actually part of my plan to teach me how to incorporate spiritual formation practices into my professional life.
Despite all the newfound clarity I had around God’s amazingness, I actually didn’t know how to talk to anyone about what had occurred. Not my small group, not my family, not even my husband who is my best friend.
I’m gonna get real here, y’all: faith is suuuuuuper messy. God doesn’t always gift-wrap an answer to prayer in a pretty bow.
Those of you who know me know that Moses has been very critical in my spiritual development. I seem to be following a similar faith journey as him. As I rounded home plate on this op, there was one last big barrier standing in my way of succeeding in creating this incredible collaborative effort where everyone could use their best gifts in the most effective way and achieve their true potential. I won’t call them out by name, but let’s just say it’s one of the major law enforcement agencies. A couple key players from their agency just seemed hell-bent on fighting every enlightened aspect of this op, because of their EGO. No amount of patience, forgiveness, or explanation caused the shift needed to get them to play well with others. I started calling them “Pharaoh,” and boy did I relish the day God would drown them in the Red Sea I was about to part. Except it never happened, and I was pissed. I’d raise my voice at God in anger demanding to know why He hadn’t crushed them like He promised.
I did a lot of other things I’m not proud of: my intended-to-be healthy venting quickly turned into trash talking. I cussed a LOT (do anyone else’s best cuss-outs happen in the shower? Bueller??). I had so much unforgiveness in my heart. I even gave God the silent treatment. I felt so much shame, anger, and guilt over my actions. The day after the op when we were celebrating with our closest partners, I attempted to wash away six month’s worth of exhaustion and frustration with a sea of beer and shots. The biggest, burliest of our Washington State Patrol partners -- a 6’4”+ biker-looking dude, former Marine, and drug task force badass with a handle-bar mustache -- found me in a pool of tears, told me I was allowed to feel whatever I was feeling, and that I could take as much time as I needed to process the events of the previous six months.
Fast forward to now. My time of rest and asking God “what’s next” resulted in one phrase: “Drop the weight.” At first I thought it was the physical weight I’d gained from the mass stress eating we did during the op but later realized I was supposed to drop some emotional/spiritual weight -- I just didn’t know what that was.
After praying to God to reveal what it was and trusting the timing of His revelation would be perfect, I opened my devotional today and came to my revelation: I expected Operation Keiki Shield to be the culmination of 15 years of striving and my faith-journey. I thought when it was over that I’d feel complete.
But I felt so empty.
Even though it was a God-led endeavor. Even though I died to myself everyday. Even though we achieved so much for the kingdom.
The truth was I had been seeking validation for my existence my entire life. I’d crisscrossed the globe: Japan, Iraq, Quantico, Kenya, Kuwait…I once did 40+ countries in two years. All searching for the opportunities to be “value-added” and “make an impact.” Wanting someone…anyone…to tell me that I mattered to them. But the real truth was that validation was sitting right next to me the entire time in the form of Jesus. Gently telling me time and time again that I mattered simply because He had imagined and created me. And that all I needed to do was connect with Him.
I know this message is incredibly simple, and that’s the beauty of it all. No amount of striving or achievement or human validation will ever quench the thirst you feel. We live in a fallen state in a fallen world. That yearning and frustration you feel day-to-day is because your spirit knows things weren’t supposed to be this way. When you encounter dissention, conflict, pride (even if it’s your own), you know deep down that God didn’t intend things to be this way. There’s a better way, but things won’t be right until Jesus returns.
Ladies, I write this to encourage you on your journey. For a long time, I hid certain parts of myself from everyone, because I felt I was supposed to present a certain image as a Christian. I’m not hiding anymore. I know your faith journey is so, so messy. It’s enmeshed with sin that you can’t seem to get away from, no matter how hard you try. I’m not condoning sinful behavior and have to repent daily (ok fine -- or maybe weekly or monthly, since I can’t seem to remember to ask for forgiveness half the time), but we serve a loving God who just wants you to drop the weight. Whatever that looks like. He just wants to know you and encourage you and even correct or rebuke you when it’s necessary. I’d do anything so you can experience the freedom I have gained from this experience, because I know so many of you live in mental bondage -- whether the enemy fashioned it for you or you created it yourself. If there is anything I can ever do to encourage or pray over you, please don’t hesitate to send me a PM or email: firstname.lastname@example.org