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.
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.
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.
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.