Let’s Get Naked: Sex – Advocacy – Hope-Rage

Dear Advocate,

 

Don’t take your clothes off just yet, it was a metaphor. Deep and heavy sigh. Y’all. I never say y’all unless I mean business. I haven’t written in awhile. It’s because I’ve been busy smacking my head into walls repeatedly to knock some of the disappointment out so I could understand life a little bit better. It’s not really working and I have a headache. I’m trying to figure out how life became so censored in some areas.

 

duck-duck-bar-brooklyn-e1337040274254

 

Un-Glam-Censored

I’ve been talking about sex in bars a lot lately. No, literally, every time I sit to a meal or drinks with people lately the topic of sex comes up. I’m starting to think that with a bar at our bellies we subconsciously enter some feast room where we left our censors at the door. Or maybe I just bring that out in people, which makes me sincerely wonder when did that happen? So, belly up to the bar, I suppose. This is a stripped down tale about the life of advocacy, i.e. exactly where I am currently.

 

I currently sit cross-legged on a cushion, tethered to my computer. My coffee and feet are as cold as the room I stubbornly refuse to heat, but the light in here is perfect. I ponder the ways today that I can return to myself and regain the spark of creativity amidst the struggle of this work I chose. It’s not the daily grind one assumes from my late-twenties. As if banging my head into walls isn’t a clear indicator, it often appears that I’m struggling to find my way, especially when I can’t pride myself on articulating fully what my days consist of entirely. It’s a fluctuating mess to me. But it is somehow whole and full all the same I guess, because other people seem to make it make perfect sense. It’s completely unglamorous, which is different from the high intrigue of being overseas or traveling. It’s different here. And while I like & engage in fun and glamour, I recognize the need for the removal of the glamorization of these roles the women I advocate for fill and thus would like to call for the stripping of our censored perceptions of reality. Things in life are really hard, good things are hard, and bad things are hard to fathom, but it all exists together. We feel what we feel when we feel it and allow it to alter us for good and bad. GoodBadHappySadFeelings…what am I even talking about? I know, I get it.

 

twinkle lights

 

Hope-Rage-Filled

My “Lenten journey” this year was to stop or start doing something that would actually affect my life. Full disclosure, I decided to stop complaining and then kind of forgot about it for most of the 40-day period. I’m nothing if not self-controlled…or was that sarcastic…I always confuse the two, clearly. The fact of the matter is, I volunteer most of my hours as an advocate for the anti-trafficking movement and it’s like crazy sad and depressing sometimes. I recently subscribed to like 10 different emergency travel and adorable animal Twitter feeds just to cope. Some days I want to cry or hug people I trust. Some days, as of late, I just want to rage and hate everyone. Let’s call it, hope-raging, because that part makes it sounds really cute and positive. Really it is me waving my hands around in peoples faces incredulously whilst complaining about the state of the world and how to better it. I’m sure it’s scary to the untrained eye.

 

Y’all…see, I’m doing it again with the y’all thing. I am coming to terms with this being a state of grief and having grace in that part of my process. For real, I am. I am proud to say that currently, for the most part, I am able to even discuss the subject without flail-arms jabbing someone in the eye or shouting so the whole bar hears me yell things like, “STRIP CLUB” and “SEX SLAVE” and then awkwardly realizing I am totally not talking about some new Britney Spears or Rhianna video. Seriously, it gets awkward and then even more awkward when people clearly realize that I do not give any form of elaborate expletive that it is awkward because we need to just grow up already.

 

I know, that’s just the hope-rage talking.

 

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Sex-Bar-God

Honestly, most days I want to sit in a bar (or a car, or a train, or a plane…) and not talk about sex, or better yet talk about sex in a more exciting way than I do. And how did this happen that somewhere along the line I became the person people come to in discussion and new understanding of exploitation. Maybe because I don’t guilt or sugar coat. Maybe because someone is finally talking about it and getting real. And I’m not the only one talking, thank God!

 

But since I am one of the one’s talking, I strip it all down for them. I unglamorously rant about how God actually needs to be taken out of the perfect equations people build as safety nets to keep arms length with people who suffer. If I give you some Jesus-schpiel, then it’s all on him and not me building a messy friendship…and I’d love to talk more on that later since I can almost see everyone actively scratching their heads in confusion post seemingly a-typical response.

 

 

Absurd-Life-Speak

Seriously. How did this place happen? You know, the place where I moved to a city I now love but previously vehemently opposed returning to, after so much adventure, just to sit and ponder the atrocities of life in a city (and largely a country) that is partially clueless and careless about it. That sounds harsh, but prove it isn’t true. It just happened, I started saying stuff, and things started happening, and I started it with talking and now things are moving. Nowadays, I go to assist an event and end up part of a documentary. I am interviewed about the subject for a local paper. We (the local task force) are developing curriculum to bring awareness to teachers and schools. My life largely looks absurd, untamed, and illegitimate. It’s got nothing at all to do with me. I don’t think I’m changing much, but maybe that’s not true. I have no degree that makes me worthy of advocating, and while I personally seek God it really has nothing to do with it because I choose of my own will to do this and choose love and others choose to stay silent. It appears that you can love God and do nothing, and conversely you can truly struggle with or oppose God and do a lot of good and make real change. If it’s ineffective and in the name of Jesus, does it somehow make it better than non-faith based loving change-makers? These are the conversations the bar and table bring. Naked and honest.

 

I don’t understand it all, and I guess I just trudge onward hope-raging and watch the journey evolve. Maybe you will join me in a hope-rage at a bar over a hipster drink some time, or invite me away into something glamorous, or simply read about this crazy from a safe distance. You are invited, you know, to this wall/bar/table with me, or whatever.

 

My whole-hearted guess is that it’s stripped down naked conversations about sex, exploitation, and hope that will actually be what begin to change the world.

 

 

Thanks For Listening,

 

TL

Dear Advocate: Prom Night & A Ten Dollar Bill

Dear Advocate,

Whatever your age, gender, and position in life, you are strong, courageous, and capable of such incredible things! Whatever you have heard opposite to this just plain ain’t true. The truth actually is that you are amazing! The beginning of the next waves of change begins with you. So, dear ones, choose wisely and embrace your own journey as one fighting for freedom.

 

Today, I have two subjects to address. I know my posts tends to be heavy, but this one is a bit different, for the most part. The first topic of discussion is an event in Savannah that provides a simple way for you to advocate for freedom in your city. The second portion is a Q&A for any and everyone who wants to join the fight through open communication and discussion on subjects surrounding advocacy and Prom night.

 

So, without further ado: Calling all Savannah teens, parents, and teachers, I have an event to share with you!

 

 

*Click image for source.

*Click image for source.

 

The Main Event

There are only a few events leading up to Spring and St. Patrick’s Day that you, as advocates, need to be aware of in Savannah. You won’t want to miss this one.

 

If you are a high schooler, parent of a teenager, teacher, or are associated with those groups, you will be planning for something big in the coming months. You know, the thing everyone in high school waits all year for, where the ladies and gents get all decked out to the nines to hit the dance floor for one night of crazy, let-your-updo-down, fun. It’s called Prom, and you know you’re going, so just ask that cute kid to go with you already!

 

Maybe you think there’s no way you are able to attend because you are just not at a place in life where you can find the cash it takes to afford it. The following event exists for you.

 

Maybe you think Prom is totally lame and would rather do anything else, well, this should appeal to you as well. Believe me, I’ve been the wallflower, mocking edgy so I could stay home and paint canvas instead, and this would have definitely gotten me out of my seat.

 

Let me cut right to the chase. There’s a way for you to go to Prom, very inexpensively, while also advocating for victims of rape, assault, abuse, and even trafficking.

 

Wait…what!? Yes. Shout it from the rooftops, this is legit.

 

 

The Details

Savannah’s local Top 40 radio station, KISS FM 97.3 is hosting an event this weekend and here is the scoop.

 

The event is called House of Prom. You can go shopping for a brand new or gently used Prom dress for only $10 each! If money was previously an issue, it is not anymore. This event makes Prom gowns accessible for everyone*. Not only does this allow possibilities for every girl to attend Prom regardless of financial status, but also all proceeds go to Rape Crisis Center. Aha! The advocacy tie-in starts to stitch together.

*They are currently receiving gowns for the sale as well. So, clean out your closets! Bring them your new or gently used bridesmaid, Prom, or evening gowns.

 

Dress Drop Off: Savannah Mall (Dillards) – NOW-March 1st

ONE DAY Sale*: Savannah Mall (former Lane Bryant) – March 2nd ONLY

*The sale starts at 10AM this Saturday, March 2nd.

 

Like I said, almost too good to be true, and totally legit!

 

 

 

*Click image for source.

*Click image for source.

 

Down And Dirty: Question & Answer

Because I anticipate (and encourage!) conversations surrounding Prom night, and discussions on how supporting Rape Crisis Center for $10 makes you an advocate, I have provided an brief but extensive Q&A below!

 

This Q&A covers the following topics: discussing safety on Prom night, how to identify rape and even trafficking, how guys can advocate, and even more talking points. Please, submit any added questions in the comments or a private message.

 

 

1. Why am I telling you about an event that is really just about Prom gowns, and how does it relate for both girls and guys and even adults for that matter?

Well, it’s not just about Prom or high school, and it’s really not just about girls either. This is an opportunity to very simply create change and advocate for victims of abuse in your community. I’ll explain more of the advocacy below, as well as guys’ and adult’s roles. But why can’t guys also share the opportunity with others of finding the perfect dress? All my fashion-designing brothers take a bow. Also, guys can begin to learn more about advocacy through this post, and Rape Crisis Center, so that they can play a more active role in undoing gender stereotypes that portray sex-driven and violent tendencies in males. So, all my dudes out there, you have an extremely important role. Please also disregard my use of the word “dudes”, it’s been awhile since I was a teen, but I’m just as cool now as I was back then. Clearly.

 

2. Isn’t Prom something we should caution teens about?

This is a mom/dad type of question, although I address the teens and teachers right below, as well. Prom night does statistically have the highest rate of rape and or sex/drug/alcohol related issues as far as high school events go. However, if you have educated yourself (as a teen) or your teen on how to stay safe and avoid dangerous situations or people, it is really less likely that there will be any sort of issue that night. There are things to be aware of, sure, and conversations to be had to ensure that it ends up as just a fun night for teens to let loose and have fun with friends. Really, ideally it would start with knowing your teenager. It really boils down to trusting your kid, and having open, honest, and respectful conversations. Don’t just assume; ask, communicate, discuss together.

 

Teens: It is important to be very aware of who you are taking to Prom/hanging around in general. Also, stay with friends that you know and trust. Don’t use this night as an excuse to do something out of character, those things can have serious consequences and you don’t need to choose something outside of your identity to prove that you are amazing. Trust me, you are already amazing! Plus, the “weirdest” teens make the coolest adults, right!? That’s what I tell myself anyway.

Parents: It is extremely important to respectfully know who your teen is going with to Prom. Maybe invite the kid out to eat a week or so beforehand, or simply meet them, and seriously figure out if it’s a safe choice for your teen. Whether your teen is a guy or girl, because guys get taken advantage of as well and are often too ashamed to speak up. If your teen is a guy, please do not ever buy into the lie that guys cannot be taken advantage of, and also educate them on how to make healthy decisions. And please, for the love of God, teach them not to rape women! I know that is extremely blunt (welcome to my life), but honestly. Teach them that women’s bodies are not to be objectified, ogled, bought, sold, or owned. Women’s bodies are not property, and tell your sons and your daughters that we each keep control over our own perceptions. Therefore, prom night isn’t a freebie love pass to feel up your date. Neither he nor she owes the other anything of the sort. Teach your boys to fight and stand up for the betterment of the ladies. Oh dear, what’s this? Gentlemen in the house! While you’re at it, teach your daughters their body is their own and if someone tries to take that away from them, they are worth fighting for! Women, we are not our bodies. Men, you are not your sex drives. DEBUNK THE MYTHS!

Teachers: Please look for signs of abuse and/or potential trafficking at any time, and specifically on Prom night. I’m not actually kidding (and how horrific if I was) because the average age for girls being trafficked is 14 years old in the US and it looks like the average teen. Honestly, know your students, give a shit about them, know their day-to-day so that you can recognize warning signs!

 

Signs of Trafficking: Domestically it looks a lot like a girl who has no control over her own choices, is with a slightly older, typically good-looking, male. They may have to ask his permission to use the restroom, get food, etc. He may have his hand on her neck, arm, or waist, holding her so she cannot walk away. Often the victim will not notice that they are being controlled or a victim, this is the art of the manipulator. These are a few obvious indicators.

 

It is not ridiculous to call in an anonymous tip if you spot these things. It could save someone. Speak up! You have a voice when some of these kids do not! If you recognize something call this hotline 24/7: 888-3737-888

 

* If this person is underage and you suspect trafficking call 911. Seriously. They have a task force and department devoted to these cases and will know how to take appropriate action.

 

 

3. Why would my support of Rape Crisis Center make me an advocate for freedom?

Great question! Rape Crisis Center of Savannah works as advocates for victims of rape, assault, abuse, and even trafficking. They have such a large array of victims’ services including self defense classes, counseling, and even a 24-hour assistance line. By purchasing a $10 dress you are helping fund a nonprofit that is actively freeing victims daily from the bondage of their past. If you cannot be on the ground with them, in the nitty gritty day-to-day, this is a great way to support them. I mean, honestly, support them anyway, nonprofits have to run without profits, so anything you give is continuing change and freedom.

 

 

4. What is considered rape, and how can I protect myself?

RCC has a great FAQ section that addresses this more extensively.

 

Rape is honestly any time you have had sex forced upon you. It is when you have said no and they had sex with you anyway. It is when you weren’t given the choice to say no. It doesn’t matter if you said yes in previous instances. It doesn’t matter what you are wearing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been drinking or doing drugs (although that inhibits your awareness and can be dangerous). There’s no excuse for rape. If you do not want to have sex, and someone did not ask you  and you did not want it, or they did not respect your discomfort or your no, then that is considered rape. Rape is not okay, not ever.

 

You can protect yourself by being aware. Know who you are with, what you all will be doing. Keep the Rape Crisis 24-hr hotline number in your phone (see below, #5). Speak up and say NO! Don’t say yes just because you think it will win you love or acceptance, because this is your life and your body. If someone does not accept you because you won’t put out, kick their ass to the damn curb. You are amazing and deserve respect, because you are worth that, even if you’ve always been told you are not, I cannot stress enough that you are worth it. If you are in a relationship or even when you are married, if you do not want to have sex you do not have to, this is not a dictatorship where you must concede. These are relationships, friendships, and one day perhaps marriage, that in order to be fully healthy you need to have mutual respect and give-and-take and always consent. Always, always, always.

 

 Here is a helpful article discussing rape culture in our society. I would suggest you consider the discussions on consensual sex (about it being good, and healthy to express what you know and like) to be for a mature, healthy, consensual relationship. If you are a teenager reading this, I say that it is a dialog to begin with parents or trusted guardians/adults. I do not frivolously condone sex willy nilly. I advocate for health and freedom, and that means open communication for all parties. So, start talking about sex in a healthy way. Seriously, like yesterday.

 

 

5. What do I do if I have been raped or abused, and what if this happens to me or my friends on Prom night?

Dear, amazing and lovely, advocate. If you have been raped or assaulted, or suspect that a friend has experienced/is experiencing this please call Rape Crisis Center. They have a 24-hour hotline number: 888-241-7273 or locally at 912-233-7273

 

They are there to help. You do not need to dismiss this. You are worth getting rescue and assistance. Whether it is abuse from a boyfriend/girlfriend, family member, or friend, or even a stranger, please seek the help you need.

 

 

Now, It’s Your Turn

ADVOCATES, do what you do best, get this conversation started! TWEET this, POST this to Facebook and other forums, SHARE these ideas and this event with your friends/neighbors/teens. And don’t forget to participate in the House of Prom event by donating dresses and/or shopping on Saturday!

Cambodia Resources: Giving Up A Hell of A Normal

Well, friends, I recently shared my story of the baby we saw being trafficked by the sea in Cambodia and you all responded! I am beyond thrilled at the new level of knowing! It is amazing what happens when we come together and truly voice that this is NOT normal. Child sex trafficking is one of the greatest horrors in this world and while there are great strides toward freedom, there is still a lot to learn and many more rescues to be made.

 

Due to the responses I’ve received behind the scenes regarding said child trafficking post from last week, I wanted to supply my readers with resources. There has been an incredible and resounding call for information on organizations we met with that are actively fighting against this in various ways.

 

Photo Credit: Kristen Tores-Toro (click for her blog)

Photo Credit: Kristen Tores-Toro (click for her blog)

 

There are three main things you can do with this information below…

 

EDUCATE: Inform yourself and others on what is happening, show them the original post and then discuss these organizations and what they are doing for the fight against this injustice.

SERVE: Find out ways you can serve these organizations. Do they have opportunities for you to start a movement on their behalf from where you are? Can you find out if you can visit them overseas? Even something as simple as writing cards or sending care packages for encouragement. Connect with them and find out what their needs are!

DONATE: These are nonprofits that are working hard to make freedom and restoration a reality for these kids. A lot of the questions I have received have been about where to donate money and these are amazing causes to consider! If not a cause, I can give you names of specific missionaries and connect you to them. We sat with the leaders of these and other organizations and heard their stories, watched their programs, saw the children flourishing!

 

Imagine, with the impact this one blog had on you and weight of the knowing; then working in this field facing multiple stories like this daily, and knowing the kids in the midst of it all. This is front lines work! Knowing is the simplest start to changing the world. With an awareness of the issues we can learn how to move forward in the fight.

 

Photo credit: Kristen Tores-Toro * (Click to see her blog)

Photo credit: Kristen Tores-Toro * (Click to see her blog)

 

Another thing that I didn’t list above but combines all of these responses is to PRAY, if indeed you do pray. Pray against darkness, lies, attack, sickness, and hardship. Pray for renewed hope and creative new ways for healing and restoration. Pray life over the teams and over the babies and kids they work to rescue.

*In order to protect the integrity of these organizations and the children involved, images used are not of children involved in the programs with organizations listed below.

 

 

Cambodia: Resources for Child Trafficking

1. Hard Placeshttp://hardplaces-community.org/what-we-do/cambodia/

Hard Places was founded by Allie Mellon in 2008. Allie is a well-respected friend and a strong leader of hope and change. This organization was formed in response to the great need to serve the children who were being sold and quickly found what darkness and horror surrounded them. Today they have a Kids Club that meets daily and allows for these children, many of whom are still being sold by their families by night, to experience joy and laughter through camp-like activities. They also provide tutoring for children who have fallen behind developmentally due to their abuse. In addition to these programs they also have done groundbreaking work in researching male prostitution in Phnom Penh and building rescue and rehabilitation for males who are trapped in this industry. They are taught English and put through a job program where they work as tour guides for the city!

 

Please see for yourself the work they are doing and get to know them a bit more through their website and contact. They are doing absolutely incredible things. Blessings as you grow in this knowledge, may the light that comes from their work overwhelm all dark you may find.

 

2. Agape International Ministrieshttp://agapewebsite.org/

Agape exists right outside of Phnom Penh in a village called Svay Pak. You will have seen them in a few different documentaries on sex trafficking, most notably Nefarious. If you haven’t seen nefarious it is an absolute must see, I sobbed and snotted the entire way through it. But being in the village and seeing the restoration there alone was stunning. The work they are doing to rescue the children and provide sustainable work for those in rehabilitation is miraculous to say the least. They have many opportunities to get involved here or overseas and many ways to support the ministry. One way to support them is through purchasing merchandise that is handmade by the women in rehabilitation there, and I can attest that it is well made and lovely.

 

Please see what Agape is doing and hear more of their jarring but redemptive story of how they found this little village where almost every single child was trafficked and held in captivity. You will want to grab tissues and prepare yourself with truth to accompany these horrors. The truth being that God is light, He rescues, He redeems even this darkness, this hell is actively being defeated. There is hope that is real.

 

Photo Credit: Connie Rock (Click photo to see her blog)

Photo Credit: Connie Rock (Click photo to see her blog)

 

Even More Trafficking Rsources: Cambodia!

Agape and Hard Places were the two main organizations we visited that deal with child sex trafficking specifically. There is a list of others at the bottom of this post that you should check out as well. They deal with the issue of sex trafficking as a whole and also one that works with street kids more generally. These are places we visited as well and are just as amazing and credible. Please inform yourself and share what you now know! Share the story from Wednesday and choose to give up this hell of a normal, claim that it isn’t normal anymore for you!

Thanks for reading! May there always be light with you to pervade all darkness as you learn about these issues and fight for change.

 

Daughters (and Sons!) of Cambodiahttp://daughtersofcambodia.org/

International Justice Missionhttp://www.ijm.org/

Precious Women Ministryhttp://preciouswomenministry.org/

Friends Internationalhttp://www.friends-international.org/children/cambodia.asp?mm=cw&sm=cam

 

Coming Soon! Sex trafficking & St. Patty’s in Savannah. Did you know that the St. Patrick’s Day celebration here is known to be the second largest in the world? It brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists and increases sex trafficking greatly by as yet unknown numbers. As the task force assembles to raise awareness of identifying victims during this event there is a lot of ground to cover. Stay posted!

Embarrassing Love: Stripped

She ran up to me from her stool at the bar, “You’re here! I switched shifts so that I’d see you all!” We’d been told in the past not to disturb the women if they had customers, but we’d been here for so many weeks consistently now and relationships were building, and I didn’t actually call her away, anyway. So, I let it happen. Amanda* was the one who leaped from her chair and ran to us at the front of the club. The laughter and hugs were all that was needed to communicate we were welcome. What a display! We thought we were the ones there to bring them big embarrassing love through cookies and our weekly girl talk. My heart swelled at the newly formed friendships blooming.

 

We followed Amanda and Rachel* to the smoky dressing room. The conversations picked up as we’d left them the week before. Questions about kids, school, fiancés, work, it all filled the silence like we were old friends on a coveted night out. We shared life and laughed through the heavy smoke of the cigarettes. Each week the smoke burned my eyes and lungs and yet somehow the joy of the moments talking with these women about mundane life and past hurts made the air clear enough for celebrations and sorrows to be exhaled. There’s nowhere else I would rather be in the entire world, I would think each week, as we sat in this seediest bar on a hill in the middle of nothing much. And the weeks between these nights would prove that outside of the club people placed what we did on a high pedestal of honor so they couldn’t reach what we did to even know. Truth being that it’s the easiest place to be, and the place that makes sense when you have your foot in the door and your friends are running to greet you. As we sat in the ill-lit room, mirrored and smoky, the light from these women would shoot like soft sunbeams through the fog of the night and I would sense His presence so gently with us as we spoke. Of love, loss, fears, and joys; all the things we would share in the sacred space during the holy moments in the seediest bar in the hidden corner of town.

 

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It’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve decided that days like today are days worth giving away, actually. It’s a day of love, and why hold onto love with clenched fists? And why just the one day, darlings?

 

When I was a kid, every year growing up Valentine’s Day was a big deal for my dad. He would go well out of his way to buy each my sister and I big boxes of chocolates and a dozen red roses. Then he would make an embarrassing display by getting my mom the biggest box he could find and two-dozen red roses. My dad is the king of holidays. When it comes to Christmas, he might as well be Santa Claus himself he gets so giddy. A regular Clark Griswold, to be sure. Over the years it never failed, there was always a heart-shaped box of candy and always roses, probably a teddy bear, waiting on our kitchen table. He would have this smile on his face like he was 5 years old and the actual recipient of some prize, and he would most likely be doing a really embarrassing dad dance. This happened every year; we found this display for us. That is, until we didn’t, but that is another story.

 

I’ve learned so much over the last few years, and since my parent’s divorce when things got really rocky and the flowers stopped coming it was a battle for a few years to anticipate holidays at all. If you’ve experienced loss, you understand. It’s taken awhile but God has really redeemed many of these places and opened up a new vein for truth and vulnerable love & depth. And it’s crazy redemptive love like this that makes you want to share it with others!

 

It’s Valentine’s Day today, and really it’s every day, didn’t you know? And today you will not find any chocolates or hearts on my table, simply because I don’t want them. I want for others to know the wild and embarrassing love of walking into a strip club and finding Jesus among the women. I want others to know what we know and to never go back to viewing them as they once have.

 

neon1

 

Redefine

 

Think of the words that initially come to mind when you hear “strip club” or “stripper”. Take a pause, and write them down, or set them aside before you read on. Before you continue, really reflect on where you learned those words and meanings for this space and these people. Is it a joke that comes to mind, a set of words, an image of glamour? What is it?

 

Well, these women I know aren’t all you might think, and they are much more than you’d ever imagined. It’s not a fairytale life of Pretty Woman being swept off her feet. These girls are just as precious as your own little girls. If you think that’s a stretch, it’s just because you don’t know these women yet.They were once little girls, you know. There’s a story to be known. And what is the reason for advocacy for these women and outreach to these clubs? Because the very first thoughts that typically enter the average person’s mind about strip clubs and women who dance in them is highly negative as if it were an embarrassment to society. But the real embarrassment is that of society turning away or falsely glamorizing and thus this great and pure love they have as women and human beings is all but ignored in a bed of lies.

 

So, we redirect our thoughts and find that truly loving is messy, open, and at best embarrassing in it’s displays as a huge candy heart and red roses, as a dad dancing with excitement to express genuine affection. And huge embarrassing love is transformative. So, we bring that to the clubs on a consistent basis to say, we will not stop bringing you flowers and chocolates. We will not stop fighting for your dignity, friendship, honor, and instilled hope. I’ve said before, I have found myself unworthy to tie up these girl’s shoes. And I mean that. They have spoken just as much love and truth into my life as I have theirs, because they are beautiful women, many of whom love God and fight for their lives.

 

It’s so important we give up the way we speak and think about these places and these women, because if we aren’t willing to go in and transform the atmosphere then we need to simply keep our mouths quiet. And either way, we must remain quiet to listen and be open to share our own brokenness as equals. And we remember this throughout the year, and starting on this the “day of love”, that our sisters who are worthy of being known thrive on the displays of affection that are genuine and true.

 

valentine's day neon heart 3

 

And this Valentine’s Day and the days to come I am devoting to this, that these women would know our grand and embarrassing love as a symbol of their worth. That these women would never stop jumping from their chairs to greet us as we enter a room to give them our undivided attentions and shoulder to lean on, as equals and friends. So, I am giving up on receiving a Valentine’s Day because I would rather bring awareness of a love I find much more compelling, the love that already exists in the real and open hearts of women who dance in strip clubs. It is my ultimate and unabashedly true Valentine’s wish that they will forever know that they are known and loved and worth far more than a holiday card can show.

 

*Names changed to protect the honor and dignity of the women. 

Giving Up A Hell of A Normal

A sweet cherub faced baby sat at her table dressed lovely. She looked to be three-years-old. Everything was so perfect on this sun-shining day by the sea in Cambodia. As she sat in her beautiful tiny dress at the café table for brunch, she had a string of little white pearls around her neck and she was smiling. Will I ever forget her face? Her sweet cherub Khmer face, with her hair done and new shoes; she was a treasure sitting in her high chair. She smiled because she did not know. This is not normal.

 

Photo credit: Connie Rock at donrock.myadventures.org

Photo credit: Connie Rock at donrock.myadventures.org

 

She was not alone at the table. She had a much older man with her. He was in his mid-sixties at least, white. He was western, I recall from greeting him. Why did I greet him? I’m not entirely sure. The scene was serene but my heart was ripping through my chest screaming something inaudible in the silence and sunshine.

 

We were in the small seaside town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia to visit a school that Carl worked with on World Race. We had been researching trafficking organizations daily for the past week or so, hearing story after story, meeting babies, children, girls, and boys, and we knew all of the signs. Sihanoukville is a place commonly used as a vacation spot where johns pay good money to families for their daughters and to pimps for their young girls to take them on a “trip”. As one man on the plane from Bangkok to Phnom Penh shared with me, he takes trips to visit his “girlfriend” every six months and take her north for a getaway. There’s no way to know what happens fully on these getaways because they are left completely to the devices of whoever has purchased them for this period of time. Therein lies a horrific danger, as one can clearly imagine, in the not knowing and in the ease at which this is shared among strangers.

 

Photo credit: Connie Rock at donrock.myadventures.org

Photo credit: Connie Rock at donrock.myadventures.org

 

We were right out in the open. We’d had our Americanos at our café of choice. Carl and I had both video chatted from the table inside, smiling, laughing, filled. It was as we left and walked out into the sunshine, at the table on the patio by the main road, for everyone to see it. Everyone could see it. This precious little girl, who had to be no more than three, wearing her pretty dress and pearls. I didn’t know what to do but I wanted him to know that I knew he was here with her, I knew what was happening. I walked up, smiled at him, and said, “Hello, how are you?” I guess I thought it would jar him, but it didn’t. It was normal for him. It was normal. I was jarred. He smiled as if he owned a prize, he was proud. It twisted me.

 

“Do you think that this is what I think…?” I started. “I don’t know.” Carl replied quickly and with a heavy sigh. There’s only so much access we had to do something here, there’s nothing to be done in that moment and the heavy sigh is filled with so many things unsaid but known. It’s the curse of knowing. Of having the knowledge of the thing, you then see what you wish you could unsee. The babies in their dresses, who are in hell with a western pedophile, who you desperately want to rescue but cannot. The normal on everyone’s faces when no less than three of the women on the bus ride to this town were being trafficked there for “vacation” and a “good time”. We know because we know, and we can no longer unknow it. And it’s good, somehow it’s good that we know. And everything in me wanted to run back to the table and scream at him and shake him, “Is this your granddaughter!? Are you her father!? WHO ARE YOU!? WHO ARE YOU!?” I stood stunned by normal. The answer is there in the dress and pearls. The garment of a virgin child. And I weep and I fight with God. And more often I fight with the claimed believers who know and do nothing, who know and then unknow. How do you unknow this!? How do turn a blind eye and spit in the face of a prostitute as she fights for her very life? How do you stop seeing what’s around you to point where you find normal? How is normal not killing you?

 

My spirit fights and screams and beats inside my spirit chest for her rescue and his healing as we leave. We have to leave, we cannot linger. It’s inexplicable, the feeling of helplessness when we want to fight and know it’s not safe for her if we do. A baby sold by her parents because of normal. To own a girl here is to own property that has high value. And we return to Phnom Penh in near silence, with no less than two women being trafficked back to the city. And how can we ever unknow what we know?

 

Photo credit: Connie Rock ar donrock.myadventures.org

Photo credit: Connie Rock ar donrock.myadventures.org

 

And to the women and men… who know and also cannot unknow, who fight daily against the horrors of trafficking in every form, we cry out in desperation with you. That we would all know, join in, and eradicate this injustice to bring wholeness to a world that aches to break off this hell of a normal. We cry out THIS IS NOT NORMAL, THIS IS NOT OKAY! We join together and we share and we know.

Darkness Will Not Overwhelm You

“Break me open, God in motion. Light my world with fire and rain.”UPB

 

I went numb again. Months ago my cry to God was, “I want to feel everything!” in an act of sheer rebellion to the fear and lackluster cage I previously hid within. “Do you know what vulnerability brings?” asked a friend; he was on the brink of tearing up as he spoke. “HURT!” my mind shouted in response, but my lips didn’t move. My weary heart thumped in anticipation of the words to come as he began to answer his own query. “Love.” he simply stated, “It brings a whole lot of love.”  I had just told him that vulnerability was what God was teaching me about lately, and felt my heart swish about as I recalled the depths God was revealing to me. God truly loves me. There’s no way around it. And my own rescue has been profound. Not by any other earthly measures, perhaps, but my story is a rescue to me and a love like His, I’ve never known. A love from a Father who knows me even if my first (second, or third) choice will never be to let things go and live with arms open. But I did, and I do, choose the letting go, though it hurts at times and though it is a lengthening process. I do it to feel Him delight in me. Not that the act of the vulnerable in turn brings God’s love, but that I am most acutely aware of Him in those moments.

 

This past year I saw God’s presence in the hallway of a brothel in Atlanta. The primary form of ministry and outreach I gravitate toward involves the fight against sex trafficking, primarily in the US (mainly because so little has been made aware, as yet). This past year, among starting outreach to a new club, among volunteering with established anti-trafficking outreach, and among researching nonprofits around the globe that are taking a stand against this, God’s presence was made aware to me in new ways. In essence, now I would describe this form of outreach to strip clubs and brothels more simply, in that our intention is to build a stronger awareness of the presence of God that already resides with these women in these places. And we build this awareness by loving well, honoring, and simply knowing, accepting, and being a real friend to the women. There is no objectification, no objectifying job titles, no stereotypes. There is simply room to be daughters in a smoky room and share stories of beautiful and sometimes harsh life together. To speak life, to be cared for, to be thought of, is restorative. It is so darn simple.

It was pure white smoke that held no shadow, and it swirled around me and the group I was with as we prayed restoration through the hallways of the brothel. I could feel the wind from God’s movement. If you think that sounds crazy, the same thing happened weeks later during song-led worship and I actually felt my hair moving all around my head and face, but it wasn’t actually moving at all. I’ve been worn down by a love I seriously don’t understand, because I delight in His delight in me. Or, I’m learning this, anyhow as my faith grows and the rules of the past subside and flow away. Even in the silly questions or my wildest tantrum, there’s a reassurance and a shift in atmosphere, my faith will make me whole. It’s not the presence of God being more tangible that changes, however, it is my awareness and choice to see.

 

There was so much to learn on the Dream Tour and the visit to Asia. There was so much to take in and I see grace in these things and because of this grace I am learning to extend that to myself. So, when I have talked about being overwhelmed by trafficking to the point of inaction, I can have grace when I fall there this past month, immobile. I knew I couldn’t stay there, but I fell there. Perhaps it was a season of absorption. I don’t know, quite frankly, but the sights we saw and the stories we heard and the things I know I cannot un-know. I had been so lost lately in the numb that I barely functioned at all, to some degree. I certainly didn’t want to write the experience verbatim, it was too much to wrap my mind around and I can tell you from experience, it is quite the conversation killer.

 

The truth about this great love we share and the places we share it, or at least my truth, is that the depth of the sadness in the reality we find (in the pushing away or difficulty in receiving the love) can carry me toward or away from my Father. The dark is heavy in the mess of evil things. No one seems to want to know the truth because that makes it more real and calls us to action. No one wants to hear the heart beats behind the pain, because it’s too easy to only see pain. And yes, it’s harsh and dark, and raw, and unkind, and dark things that occur that we may knowingly partake of (strip clubs, porn, objectification) without awareness of the consequence and heartbeat and relationship are too easy to cycle back into to mask the shame. But God’s love resides with you, and this is no place for shame, simply restoration. It’s easy to only see the darkness, but most of my research this Autumn has brought me renewed hope, actually, when I get to the bare (waking up!) bones about it. When we move beyond the immobilizing shock of darkness to see the light and the potential for new life, we can see God’s presence in the brothel where we previously only felt weight, darkness, and burden.

 

Who truly wants to know the pain of this love? Like I said, this crazed sense of justice kicks in and I tend to get all high and mighty about activism on the subject because these are now actual heart beats and friends of mine trapped. Yet, I too become numb and immobilized at times, unhinged by this great sadness. How can I tell it without creating a lackluster army of immobile, grief and fear-stricken warriors, shields up? What part of my journeys do you really want to know? Do you want to hear my funny stories of tourism, or do you want to hear about the hotline number on the tuk tuks that leads to the rescue of children as young as 3 trapped in sex trafficking? Because the latter forces a realization that it’s real, it’s happening, and these are babies being raped for profit.

You can’t just be angry forever, and you can’t do anything immediately, and do you shut down or is it possible to realize that the hope and light is present in that  a tuk tuk is a mode of transportation that has eyes all over the cities. People are fighting for light and freedom and it is working!

 

It’s interesting here, admitting immobility and extending grace to myself. It’s odd, because I can still, while immobile, choose to spout out bitter facts about a dying world. The immobility and fear contribute to this and behave badly because it does not allow me to see past the darkness into the fully lit expanse that God is redeeming, rescuing, and equipping for greater things.

God is in the brothel even when I’m overcome with sickness and want to leave, God is in the strip club even when apathy drags me to my couch, God is with those babies even if I can’t do anything immediately to stop what is happening to them. There is light and protection and hope. God calls us to these things not because of what we have to offer but because in these places we can experience the learning alongside the Father as He delights in our attempts, failures, and successes.

 

A call to faith and action! So, in addition to other facts and figures, educating and hoping, I have a radical idea! In addition to building relationship, knowing others, loving well, and being community, I propose something that will move the mountain. See below…

“I tell you,…nothing would be impossible.” (Matt. 17:20)

“…In Him there is no darkness at all.” (1John 1:5)

“…Passion laughs at the terrors of hell…” (Songs 8:6-7)

 

PRAYER:

  1. That those who hear these stories will come alive with hope and creation ideas for true change in themselves and others.
  2. That those enslaved will feel peace and security in God’s presence and will find full rescue physically, emotionally, spiritually.
  3. For those working in service against this violence and injustice, to feel everything! But that the light always far outweighs the dark things.
  4. For your own heart to hear, know, and tell, and in the process let it free you!

 

You, too, are worthy of rescue and redemption. Have grace for yourself as you work through the knowledge of darkness and find light.

How have you experienced God as rescuer?

A resource for Georgia is below. I implore you to find hotline numbers for your area, or let me know and I will do the research for you.

Out of Darkness is a nonprofit rescuing women in Atlanta and surrounding areas of GA. If you suspect trafficking in this area call their hotline: 

 

Hot Line

(404) 941-6024

Cat Calling and the Fight for Renewed Dignity

I recently commented on a blog by Good Women Project regarding street harassment. If you don’t know what that is, or even if you do, I strongly encourage men and women to check it out! I wanted to share my comment as a blog post because I think it is important to speak out on this issue and my experiences. If there are times where you have experienced the same or seen or heard it experienced by other women, please share your stories in the comments!

 

The first time I can remember being approached was when I was 12… A military man saw me at the mall in all of my pre-teen glory; with my boy-ish haircut, overalls, and skater shoes. He asked if I would go with him to the barracks (dorm-style military residence). My response was simply, “I’m 12!”, to which he repeated, “Whatever, do you want to go to the barracks with me?” I did not, and I was disgusted and utterly terrified. I halted smiling at boys and men for awhile after that day, afraid they would offer the same. Now I am 28 years old, and just moved back to the tourist city where I reside after traveling around the world researching what anti sex trafficking efforts look like in various communities.

 

My first week returning to this city ended with me sobbing in my friend’s car after no less than 10 inappropriate come ons, gestures, or invitations from men. I could feel their gestures all over me even though they’d never touched me. I feel that it is an important factor to add that I have never been abused, and these feelings cannot be written off in any way as over-reaction. This is what it is like to be a woman who is being objectified. Just today, I was in a christian thrift store and a man slowly took in my body with his eyes…I glared back at him to let him know I knew, unsure of the appropriate response.

 

I currently live in a beautiful tourist city… While there is beauty and light here, there is also an underlying culture I (and many other women) have experienced which tends to find it acceptable for the men to be extremely sexually forward with women. While, this has been a traumatizing issue all of my life growing up in a military town, it is not centralized there, and it seems to pervade our general culture as a whole which is presented to us through everything from media to even twisted theology.

 

The worst part is… This is not just an issue with men who are doing the obvious, blatant harassing. This is a heart issue that isn’t just about men calling from the street, but a heart issue that devalues the emotions that come with objectification. The response to stories of men cat calling should be shock and anger, however, the most recent responses that I’ve personally received from male friends when telling the stories of being approached on the street involve, “Well, you’re an attractive woman, it should be flattering”, “Are you sure they meant anything by it”, and “How do you know it was a proposition of some sort”… This is purely dismissive and yet are all responses from men who’s opinions I would typically trust. Not only is this the typical response, at times it is even these trusted men that may let something slip. Tell me, how lost and hurt should we feel when someone we genuinely trust and care for allows others to objectify us?

So, what is a woman to do when culture not only allows this behavior but accepts it as normal or in some dark twist, “flattering”?

 

There is a strong (and wrong) message out there that this is acceptable That we are only worth what our bodies can do or give. It’s present in various walks of life and peoples; it is only more obvious when it’s a cat call on the street. Men of honor, who will not treat you this way, will not dismiss your wounds, and will fight for you, DO EXIST! Now, I can say that I am blessed enough to know true men of strong character who will stand against this sort of thing, but for awhile it was looking pretty bleak to be a woman in this culture.

 

It seems so petty to hear someone whistle or cat call… Abuse is such a strong word, I hesitate to use it, however, the objectification of our bodies as products for someone else’s control or use is harassment and abuse. The repercussions on women’s lives and the ever-apparent gender inequality still prevailing today, act as proof. We’re so often being told that it is meaningless to be called out on the street or approached and gazed over as if we were on the market. If not verbally and in person then choose your medium. But the fact is, it affects ME when these men do this, and if it makes me uncomfortable and unprotected, then it is worth doing something about. This really all boils down to worth and identity. I am worth taking the time to stand up against injustice against myself, and worth others doing the same for me and vice versa! I am not typically one to sit back and take any kind of abuse, so it kills me that at times I feel frightened to respond in protection of my dignity (at the least) to these men. The most common response I give is to glare at them. Although I admit  I have also flipped the bird and stated loudly in a man’s face, “I AM NOT INTERESTED!” I have considered other ways to approach the men or perhaps simply ignore. However, there are the occasional men who are physically close when they approach, or move toward you to whisper something lewd. To be honest, it makes me want to fly off the handle. I have not welcomed this by any stretch, yet I see movement and hear whispering and realize someone has invaded my space uninvited. And the stories of the women I know who are actually trapped in this type of life as a constant hell repeat in my mind.

What are we to do when those men get too close?

 

Honestly, the most overwhelming thing to me is… There are so many women who don’t know their worth enough to know that this is NOT OK and who actually hear it and accept the gestures of men or accept the words because they think they deserve it. Or perhaps worst, they feel that it feeds their worth. That is what keeps me up at night. The fact that everything I want to respond to the men is in response of stories of now friends who have suffered under the understanding that this is appropriate and deserved. The women who sit in a dressing room after they’ve been with a client and say, “I wish someone would kiss me on the forehead and mean it but I don’t think it exists.”

 

Just for clarity’s sake: men and women… This mistreatment of beauty and the feminine is NOT okay. Men, if you’re still living under the guise that you are ‘just a man’, a sexual being, and you can’t help yourself, please seek freedom and health from your unhealthy views of sexuality and boundaries. Please begin to learn to honor women and take a stand against this behavior! Women, if you still think that it is acceptable to ‘just take it’ because it’s how men are or that you are somehow deserve it, please note clearly that this is abusive and toxic behavior you are witnessing. It is not something you have to put up with! Also, the rebuttal should not involve demeaning or objectifying men, either.

 

Thank you, Jesus, for the men you’ve pursued to the depths to free them and lead other boys into men who honor! Thank you, Jesus, for the women you’ve pursued to the depths to free them into knowing their worth and not accepting less!

 

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The Simplicity of Freedom

I’m really not one for 5-step plans, or any plans. I like the freedom to dream and the room to change it up and create new things.

That said, I still have 5 ideas for eradicating sexual exploitation in your own community. They are based out of my finding as I’ve researched trafficking across the globe. They are pretty simple and I believe will begin to revolutionize the world if put into practice.

So, especially if the idea of sex slavery freaks you out, shuts you down, or puts you out, here are some tips on creating change from the root up.

 

  1. Know Your Neighbors

Yes, even the “crazy cat lady” and the “work-a-holic” dad with 5 “bratty” kids. When it seems that the biggest sickness affecting our society today is loneliness, and loneliness breeds wounds and brokenness because I truly believe isolation is the enemy’s best trick. Alone we have only ourselves to fight the lies, there’s no support from others.

Also, knowing your neighbors will give you a better feel for the environment you are in. What is going on there? This is not a call to spy on your neighbors, or to overwhelm yourself with get-togethers. Seriously, I’m an introvert and the last thing I am going to do is host twenty parties to get a feel for the populace. What I mean by knowing your neighbors is to actually get to know people, open yourself up to smile at the cashier, accept invitations, put yourself out there. Often we go to work, drive home, and crash without interacting much with anyone. It’s simply more fulfilling for everyone to know and accept people and it will help you learn to love well, I believe, which is also on this list.

 

  1. Mentor Kids

Those five bratty kids really need love and attention. In fact, in all of my work in schools, it is always the kids deemed “most annoying” or “problem kids” that have the hardest time at home and need the most love. There are healthy ways to love these kids well. If you are an emotionally stable human being and want to raise up kids to be healthier, love well, and honor themselves and others, it is a great idea to be involved in their lives. One great way to do this is to mentor a kid, or even tutor kids.

It is honestly so simple. It is literally as simple as asking a kid how their day was, and listening to them. Giving kids opportunities to share their life and be cared for is so drastically life altering for them developmentally.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to value the life of every child, including ones you think are already far-gone, and maybe especially those kids. These are future adults and future (and arguably, current) world and life changing souls. I implore you to not ignore their voices, because you will find that they are not so small at all.

 

  1. Honor Women

Honestly, I will stay off of my major soap box and simply state that once you open your eyes to it, the objectification of women and their bodies is quite rampant and appalling. No wonder there are so many issues with sexual exploitation! So much of it stems from the idea that women are objects and worthless unless they can give their body to you. And men are objectified by the societal belief that they don’t also need connection and relationship. As pure and beautiful a thing as a woman’s body and truly her soul are torn apart in the pursuit of selfish fulfillment of our own brokenness. The soul of a woman is often detached from her body in our minds because we have all (women and men, and children) been taught through so many various (an often undetected) mediums that we can only offer ourselves with our body, and men only want us until they don’t.

This is not okay! This is not okay. And I know I am not God by any stretch, but I know God and know He hates what has happened to you. I know it because I know He hates darkness and how much more close will He be to the brokenhearted! He is close to you even when He seems far. So women, you are worth MUCH more than your body, don’t believe anyone who tries to trick you into knowing differently. Men, be MEN who truly honor women and teach boys to do the same. Erase the words “shame” and “guilt” from your lips. God came to free you not to beat you into submission. Love out of your freedom and purity.

 

  1. Truly Learn to Love Well

It can be really difficult to love well when you have been deeply wounded. A lot, if not all, of our wounds are a manifestation of our brokenness. But hear me when I say, you are deeply and greatly loved. You have been pursued all along to the depths of whatever hells you’ve experienced and God is weaving redemption through and through. Loving well starts with recognizing the love that is engulfing you, that you may not yet feel or recognize for awhile. It starts with healing in your own heart and then pouring that healing and freeing love out on others, irrationally and wildly pursuing love in the face of all evils.

Because the passion of God laughs at the terrors of hell. He will not be moved to give up on you or remove His love because God exists as LOVE. It is the only thing and it is everything. It covers all things. So, learn to rest in God’s love and it will be impossible to not share it. Love is pure, kind, not self-seeking. Love is the game-changer toward freedom.

 

  1. Educate Yourself on Your Community

You live in a community that you view with your own eyes and perceptions. Maybe you have lived where you are your whole life, or maybe you move a lot. I know a few people like that. Either way, each community is different and grows differently. Each community’s issue with sexual exploitation is similar but also different.

In order to eradicate sexual exploitation and slavery in your own community you need to understand what it looks like. There are various ways to do this. First, what does sex trafficking/exploitation look like where you are? Are there strip clubs, massage parlors, brothels? Is yours a tourist town, does it have interstates, military, a port? Educate yourself on the broad view of sex trafficking as a whole, who it affects and what it looks like. Then, find out what people are doing about it. Does your town or city have NGOs working against this issue? If so, can you volunteer? What are they doing? Can you sit down with them and learn from them? If no one is doing anything and you cannot find any issue of sexual exploitation near you, try to locate a task force in your area, and ask questions. Find out a hotline number you can call once you know what to look for, that way you can call in tips when you spot a potential trafficking situation.

Prevention is key! So, educate yourself on your community. Something as simple as taking 5 minutes to call a tip in to the hotline can mean freedom for someone.

 

Conclusion

I don’t write these steps to give anyone an “out” to avoid the topic of sex trafficking. I just know that not everyone wants to or should go directly into the front lines. I also wanted to highlight how important these simple life choices can be. I know it can be overwhelming to hear statistics about the horrors of sex trafficking, so much so that it will shut you down. That’s really okay to initially have that response, because I think it is natural for us to become overwhelmed with the enormity of the sadness. It’s okay to be sad and angry and overwhelmed by it. But please know you don’t need to reside there because this is also HOPE-FILLED. There is so much life happening and so much bondage coming undone. This is something God has already claimed VICTORY over, and we are simply letting the world know (and letting ourselves know) YOU ARE FREE! You don’t have to live under this oppression, because you are loved and pure and clean. God is pursuing you. You can live fully again and for the first time.

It’s simple really. In all of the chaos of the darkness, it doesn’t overwhelm us because we carry light and that light permeates every single thing. So, whatever you do, have done, wherever you are, this is your task: seek Love in all things. Forgive and be free.

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Finding Redemption: Part 3

Exploit Thy Neighbor

In a world of deeply broken hearts we will find hurt and anger welling up against purity. In this, our fragile hearts respond with so many broken messages of identity and worth. In my research I find that men are exploited as well as women. However, the broken and dark heart in us seeks to destroy beauty and sees femininity and innocence of children as a main threat. So, we live in a world where women are paraded around as a meat market, destroying their feminine soul and reducing their spirit to an empty breath in the ear as they give their body again to the broken world from which they are enslaved. What will our role be in eradicating the injustice of the exploitation of humanity?

The truth is, sexual exploitation is at its most obvious when it is in the open as the buying and selling of people, or the stripped down version of the little girl who was raped at age 11 within the walls of a church. It is obvious when it is on stage or on a street corner, or even with the girl in the high school who sells $2 blow jobs under the desk in Biology class. These are facts, and realities, and stories of daughters & sons. This is your story, too (literally, at times), as the church, if you’ll own it. Along with this, it is also the daily messages of the feminine body being worthless and objectified that aids in the wicked deceit that we all belong to no one and also to everyone. That our bodies are to be used to get what we want and need and that our soul is worthless unless we tie it to another person.

With this said, I believe that at the core of my understanding of the sex industry and sexual exploitation as a whole, there is this idea that we as people are worthless. So, to bring real freedom it must be a reality to raise up generations that honor one another, that know and call out beauty because they recognize it in themselves again or for the first time. We need to raise up boys to be men who honor women and openly discuss what they are inevitably exposed to. The reality today is that even hamburger commercials are sexualized. It’s not easy to avoid the messages, but there is freedom in releasing truth over the lies that spill out of our society. Communicating the truth rather than hiding from it will aid in dispelling the lies that plague our sons & daughters. It could put an end to the generational cycles that seem to have no end. Our little girls and boys are pure, holy, and lovely. As are the women and men who strip and prostitute themselves. As are the women & men who seek darkest fantasy to fill a void left by deep wounds. We are all children, and we belong to a Father who loves wholly and exists to love us in full at every part of our story.

The simplest way to be change in this world is to simply love without condition and without self-seeking. To be a neighbor. To love because we are free and to free others with the love that God gives us because we already know that love, joy, and freedom and want to share it with the world.

I truly believe that this simplicity of love (and in this, considering all others as greater) is going to change everything.

Finding Redemption: Part 2

 

 

Identity Issues

It was the picture of smitten first love. Boy & girl notice each other across campus. They find a chance meeting with a mutual friend. They become inseparable, going on walks, watching movies, sharing stories, and living them out. Boy takes girl to a college formal. They have their first kiss at the beach, which eventually leads to getting caught making out in cars. Typical. They were only 19, and little babies at loving well. What did they know? They both fell into love like an atom bomb, equal parts mesmerizing, beautiful, and destructive. As time went on, there were clear signs that it wasn’t working well, and there were words and actions ill-communicated that cut into hearts so deeply. Words from deep brokenness killed parts of the soul and seemed so true in their hearts because they trusted one another so profoundly and without caution. The risks were great and they would stop at nothing to go together through their wild love, at least for a time.

The killing words spoken into existence settled into the soul and we acted them out perfectly. A perfect poison, as if my beauty was made for destruction and our love was there to condemn and break apart. I learned then that my beauty was destructive, that I was shameful and could not give enough to satisfy what was already broken. Those bitter lies became my cornerstone.

 

Broken Hearts

“I would respect you more if you had denied my advances.” Brokenness, when spoken and acted upon, destroys the purity of the love God intended for us. The messages of our beauty being a stumbling block and our love a distraction bury dying seeds of deadened roots that block out the joy of a life of full-circle love without condition.

After years of trying, the break-up was inevitable. However, still blind-sided and shattered. “We never really loved one another.” Words cut into the soul like an irretrievable and silent whisp buried in a heart that shut down access to joy and full-life. I didn’t want God to even touch this. I didn’t trust a soul with my love and vowed without my full realization to never be vulnerable and to hide my beauty.

It was years before I would allow God access to heal it. It was a 4-year, slow walk into the dark soul before I fell flat on my back in the sludge of my undoing.

Why do I share this story? It’s only just a part of the unraveling of the feminine heart. It’s a story in the midst of lies already embedded. There were lies before this and after. Because sometimes we choose to open our hearts wide in wild abandon to the wrong things. It is not just my story, it is a story many know and it is at the root of oppression and exploitation. Not being known, not knowing who you are. Identity issues. Heart issues.

 

The Light of the Broken

Our resistance to truly knowing the broken people is a deep irony of life. It is in our arrogance that we assume the roles of hierarchy that separate us from receiving a deeper love and even greater presence of God. It is in those seemingly dark places, the places where the “unworthy” reside, that I have found Jesus more clearly than any church pew. It is there, in the strip bars and brothels, that I find myself brought down low at the feet of Jesus, not worthy to tie up these women’s shoes. Why? Because there in the obvious mess of a life not knowing the depth of God’s love for you, I recognize that in my knowledge of God I missed a whole lot of His heart. My brokenness and my mess, while appearing better but hidden and tidy, is worse because I claim things that I now must learn to live out in ways that are completely uncharted, broken, and messy. Places we avoid for fear of looking foolish, stupid, judgemental, and uptight. Let me tell you, you are probably those things, and that’s part of what will be refined. That’s the heart of meeting people where they are at in their story, to say, YOU are worthy of being truly known. Not everyone should go to strip bars to find this, and most of you shouldn’t. But think of the messiness of your own life, and those around you. Who can you sit with, smile at, share coffee with? Who can you call worthy of knowing today?

 

Who can you KNOW? Because ultimately, this issue (of trafficking, of lonely, of homeless, of fear), I believe, is of others not being known or of having a misplaced identity. I promise, this will change your life and you will never be ready for the transformation that will eventually come. It’s all the more reason to jump into the mess of the lonely, broken, and hurting and together fight for freedom! What you think is dark harbors light, what you think is light is often mirrors deflecting the light of the broken to shield the fearful from the life of freedom that comes with admitting and breaking free from the brokenness we hold onto like a savior.

 

Pimp Child

Brokenness tends to find a loophole where our sudden and seeming joy can dissipate in the shock of emptiness that follows the instant gratification of our lonely hearts. There are many reasons that we, as people, exploit beauty and empty our souls into things that don’t fulfill but in the end, it’s our choices that define what the future of freedom will be. Do we choose to open our hearts again, but to something holy that cleanses? Are we calling that out in one another? We often grasp onto things that are not ours to hold and empty our souls into darkness and lose ourselves in the process. We are the lost. When is the last time you walked into a church and knew we had it all together? Why are you still looking for God in a church building?

The light in the eyes of the women and men that are called names: pimp, evil, whore, slut, exploiter. In the process toward becoming like a child I see it, because children understand children best. The light in their eyes is still there, as a glimmer I often see of the child inside of them called names: worthless, stupid, alone, dirty, unwanted. Broken hearts cry out, and God is near to them. NEW, NEW, NEW! Clean, worthy, joyful, hope-filled! God spends His time there with them. With us, in our brokenness, too, God fights for us. If you go there, to the broken and messy places and people, you will feel God. You go to church to feel His presence, but feel nothing? Go be a neighbor to other broken people, as your messy self, and experience God more fully than you have. Often you see, you’re not actually the one bringing the light, you’re the one more fully experiencing stepping into God’s presence in a seemingly dark place. Because God resides with His children, providing light when theirs has gone out. If you’re looking for God, find Him there.

 

Coming soon: Part 3; To be continued…