Thursday, August 21, 2014

trafficking: scene 3 - my first strip club

...Fast forward five years.

Black lights. Velvety carpet. One stage. Clusters of lounge chairs. End tables spilling over with empty glasses. Flatscreens blaring UFC. A long bar with no one sitting on the stools.

"Just walk straight to the back," they said. 

It was my first time in a strip club so I couldn't help but look around. I wanted to remember this place. Where the girls work. What it feels like. What it sounds like. What it smells like. So I didn't keep my eyes on the back of the head in front of me in our single file line back to the dressing room. I looked around. 

They glared. So many eyes glowing out of the dark and fixed in our direction as we passed. Like a pack of wolves looking up from their bloody kill in a NatGeo night vision documentary, it was clear we were intruding. Some of the eyes looked at us with hunger. Others with skepticism. All of them with pain. 

"Just get to the dressing room," they said. 

One last look and I caught a glimpse of our team. There was a glow. Not one of us was wearing white or any color that would have brightened under the black lights. Most of us wore some combination of black, but we were definitely glowing. Maybe I'm the only one who saw it. Maybe not. But in that moment I understood so clearly that the covering of prayer thanks to the husbands of ours sitting out in the parking lot, and the flames within each of us compelling us to love in dark spaces, were literally pushing back the darkness and making a way for us to pass through. 

Obviously my girl Jen didn't take my Thanks, but I'll pass as my final answer. Eric and I had moved to southern California to work in student ministry at the small Christian college where he had done his undergrad work and then we came back a few degrees later after the birth of our first to be near family. Jen was right there ready with another invitation. Her words fell on different ears that time, ears that had listened to girls who had been abused, exploited, blackmailed, addicted to porn, desperate for attention, searching for value, in lesbian relationships, dating married men and considering ending their life. It got real, real quick. 

That season was one of the richest and most pivotal of my life as I learned who the Church really is, in the words I first read from Brennan Manning, "just a beggar telling other beggars where to get bread". Those years were the backdrop for the dismantling of the flawed good choices/bad choices philosophy of earning from my youth and the sowing of the understanding that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. 

During our years at the university I was given an unfortunate front row seat to one of the most powerful examples of this I have ever seen. We had a female student who was in an abusive relationship with someone who convinced her to take nude photos during their sexual encounters. When she attempted to end the relationship he sent her photos to the President of the university in an attempt to get her expelled. She was so ashamed and so very scared. Her parents had to be notified, but we all wept as her father came running to protect her. Not to condem her. It didn't matter what she had done. It didn't matter what mistakes had been made. He scooped her up and took her home. She was his girl. End of story. 

I'm bawling just recalling those days. 

So when Jen invited me into the clubs, once again, my heart had been primed. I was in. That first night was life changing because, while God had used our years at the college to show me the wounding in the lives of his children, He was about to begin schooling me in the state of my own heart and the catalyst was about to get lit.

Our small team of girls spent an hour backstage at the club. We came bearing gifts since it was the Christmas season. Goodie bags filled with hand picked items were given to each dancer, one who cried because she had never received a gift from anyone in her entire life. Her. Entire. Life. Another cried because she was so relieved to now have something to give her daughter for Christmas. Another girl cried because she couldn't believe there were no strings attached. We sat around the mirrored room under the bright vanity bulbs talking shop about makeup and costumes as well as family and dreams for our lives. Oh the dreams! The girls brimmed over with hopes and plans and somedays and there was just so much more to them than their platform shoes and tassels. Weaving our own dreams together with theirs we shared love and grace and Jesus. Soft hearts shed tears over supporting children, sick family members who need surgery, working their way through college and just working to keep the lights on. Hard hearts steeled themselves against us telling us from a distance about "draining the paychecks of those sorry assholes". One girl wouldn't even acknowledge us. She hated that we were there. She hated that we were nice. She hated that we cared. She just kept applying her tanning spray and glitter. More tan. More glitter. She, too, made it clear that we were intruding.

No matter their story, all of the dancers were fighting for power. Power over the men who consumed them on a nightly basis. Power over the house management that convinced them they were in control all the while treating them as commodities and enabling their bondage. Power over their circumstances. Power over the woundings in their hearts that over time taught them that their sexual glory was their greatest weapon and best chance at getting what they needed in life. Power over their desperation to feel beautiful. Power over each other for fame. Power over their fear of rejection. Power to detach and not even care.  

Our time was up. We packed up to leave saying goodbyes and next-times and as we resumed our single file line through the dressing room doors and back into the den of wolves, eyes adjusting back to the black-lit darkness, I glanced around the floor. There were no wolves. No glowing eyes staring us down and warning us to leave. There was no kill being devoured. There were only chains. In that moment I saw every man  shackled to the floor, unable to move. Eyes pleading. Powerless against their own destruction. 

Look around. Both sides of this power struggle house prisoners

But Jesus wasn't done speaking just yet. I turned to the stage to see one of our new friends performing. 

My Beloved, you're not that different from her. Your hearts share the same cries.

That was it. The match was lit on a fuse set to destroy my churched-up pride reducing me to a pile of rubble at the foot of the cross. 

I love her just as much as I love you. There is nothing you can do to make Me love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make Me love you less. Nothing. Not. A. Thing. 

That moment, walking past the bar toward the exit door as if it were all a slow motion dream, my mind was blown. The scales tipped so dramatically on the way in were looking pretty even on the way out. I got it in that kind of way that changes everything.  I was overwhelmed with compassion seeing that the girls just wanted their Father to come running to protect them, to scoop them up and take them home. The men in chains were actually the ones being consumed by their own insatiable appetites filling bottomless holes with desperation. But it wasn't an exchange of power. The dancers were not any more in control. It was the darkness. The air inside the club was thick with shadow and heavy to breathe in but one thing was clear ---> the only thing more powerful than the darkness is the light. 





   

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

these are the Wonder Years

Never before had I seen so many Jeep Commanders on the road as when we were in the market to buy one. With the click of a Craigslist ad, all of a sudden they were everywhere I looked! Every intersection, every parking lot, were Jeep Commanders actually the most popular car that month? I must've been right on trend, right? Nah. There was no surge in demand. They were always there. I just didn't notice. 

The same is true for injustice. The word justice might be trending hot these days but it is nothing new. There has always been oppression and abuse and there have always been warriors of truth and light. We just haven't always noticed. 

Funny thing about injustice... the more we stare it in the face, the more we see it's fine lines and nuanced trace and the more questions we ask about its origins. How did we get here? How is it that we think we are so progressive and advanced and yet another young black boy is gunned down in the street by those who are sworn to protect? 

How is it that yesterday while I'm on the elliptical watching an episode of The Wonder Years, a show set in the 1960's - THAT'S FIFTY YEARS AGO - featuring 8-tracks and black and white TV, and the themes are exactly the same as today's headlines. Voices of hope speaking out against oppression, young people determined to believe in peace and love, a black minister from the south leading a crowded mall toward his dream of freedom. I'm on the freaking elliptical in tears friends, me and Kevin Arnold's teacher-crush Miss White, because the peace they were desperate for then is the peace we are desperate for now. The arguments at their dinner table are the same arguments rippling across this country still. Race, war, justice, oppression, peace, love, truth, freedom. 

It's easy to acknowledge the sins of our histories. It's not so easy to admit the sins of right now. Today. The things that are happening in our homes and neighborhoods. 

Yesterday, in our neighborhood, groups of police officers were walking door to door. We weren't afraid. We didn't close the curtains and lock the door pretending not to be home. We walked out front, waved them down and spent almost a half hour talking about proactive neighborhood alliances with city and university police. They were going door to door handing out brochures about neighborhood unity and resources and discussing ASU's student move-in with residents in the area. We laughed and joked and told stories about the crazy things that come with living so close to ASU giving credit to our respectful college-kid nextdoor neighbors who inform us about their parties and bring us bottles of wine the day after. If they weren't on duty they probably would've stayed for a beer. And when Garrett came running home from his friend's house down the street and joined our front yard crowd, he acted shy but his only real concern was whether or not the officers had stickers. 

If we only pay attention to those officers in our yard, on our street, in our neighborhood and we only ask questions about getting stickers, well, we won't see injustice. However, if we allow ourselves the eyes to see and ears to hear and we concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters, even on a small scale, asking questions about personhood and privilege we will see injustice. Every intersection, every parking lot. No, it's not a trend, not just the latest popular thing to do. It's that we are just now paying attention. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

trafficking: scene 2 - thanks, but I'll pass

A year had passed since that first night with the high school students and Jen and I had become quick friends, as tends to happen when you share the deep stuff right off the bat. Her instant honesty on that first night set such a trajectory of depth for our friendship which is why I was not one bit surprised when she upped the ante one Sunday standing on the sidewalk near the nursery of our then-church. 

Jen invited me to join her and a small group of girls who go backstage at strip clubs to hang out with the dancers. There were people bustling past us picking up their kids after service. Parents jostled for position as they craned their necks to get a glimpse of their little one in Sunday school. I wondered if any of them had heard her say strip club. Jen couldn't have cared less and I loved that about her. Her freedom gave me permission to not care either, but I still declined the invite. 

I mean, what could I possibly contribute? I had zero street cred.    

I wasn't afraid. I wasn't judgmental. I just genuinely didn't see how I could connect. Jen? I mean, hello, she could relate. Me? At that point I was just a rule-following Jesus girl subconsciously banking on the church-driven behavioral economy of good choices = good life, bad choices = bad life. How would I be a good fit for this kind of thing? 

Thanks, but I'll pass.trafficking

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

depression: you are not alone

I used to be an idiot.

I remember thinking Snap out of it! Just decide to be in a good mood!  

And then my younger brother died, anxiety came crashing in, depression settled over me for a two year thunderstorm I thought would never end and I remember thinking very differently if this is what life is going to be like, I can't live it. I can't do another week, much less the rest of my life!

Those days it was all I could do to make sure my children ate three meals. I hardly ever ate, lost ten pounds, had zero muscle tone, drank too much wine, lost a lot of hair and counted down the minutes every day until I could put the kids to bed. I would soak in the tub every night to calm my nerves but it only made me feel like I was drowning all the more. I read books and clung to Bible verses, I went to counseling and did all the things that should have gotten my mind "right". And at the end of the day it was still raining and I was still left waving my white flag of surrender.

I never made a plan. But I did think about it. About not living. All the time. As a follower of Jesus' way, I didn't think about suicide as sin, I thought what could be better than eternal life with Him sooner?

I have been so sad about Robin Williams. Not because of his celebrity or even the artistic genius lost, although staying up late the past two nights to watch Dead Poet's and Good Will Hunting has been worth every extra cup of iced morning coffee needed, but because I remember the dark. I mourn the ignorance surrounding depression and mental illness. I mourn the religious piety slinging faith around like a weapon instead of a lifeline. I mourn the loneliness within each person battling every day just for survival in their minds. I mourn those of us who have contributed to the solitude with our idiotic blabbering. While my thunderstorm has passed and I feel further and further away from those days of drowning, I will hold my little white flag in solidarity with those for whom the rain remains. 

You are not alone.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

trafficking: scene 1 - let's all be pyros


I'm standing in the entryway of that typical 90's split-level home in a neighborhood familiar to me, my mind reeling backward to the handful of my friends from high school who had lived on those streets, around that curve, and I wondered if any of their families were still there. Eric and I had just driven by the house where my friend choreographed and taught me my All American cheer routine. Then there was the house that had that one party senior year where I lost a sister in a passing glance. Next was the house of a good friend who linked arms with me one summer as we ditched cheer camp for church camp. Lastly, there was the house I tried to fit myself into with the one who liked the idea of me more than the real me and really should've just stayed a friend. 

This home at the end of the line belonged to a fun older couple from our church who volunteered to host a mid-week Bible study with us for a crazy cool bunch of high school kids. Their two girls were in the group while Eric and I still felt like kids ourselves! Newly married, we jumped right into volunteer student ministry and fell in love with our new crew, some of whom are still a very real part of our lives today. But that night, leaning over the wrought iron entryway railing above their sunken living room as students piled in and the overall volume went through the roof, I had no idea driving down that familiar street would not be the only blast from the past of the evening. 

I almost didn't hear her come in. Eric and I could hardly hear ourselves talk over the buzz of this first standing-room-only  gathering so when I turned around to see her standing in the doorway our eyes met in that heyIknowyou sort of way that makes you split-second pray the right name pops out of your mouth. JEN! We recognized each other instantly and out flooded simultaneous whatareyoudoinghere/ididn'tknowyou'dbehere/it'sbeenforever high-pitched exchanges. I quickly introduced Eric to Jen as my old friend from junior high who I hadn't seen since, except for that one time at that one lake on that one friend's boat. 


Fourteen years ago that first gathering was underway. My junior high friend became a grown up friend that very moment as we just so happened to have been matched up to lead high school girls and she shared with me her past as a strip club dancer, how Jesus had saved her and how she was placing her hope in Him to save her marriage all before the first introductions had even been made. I remember the moment hung in a breath between her story and my response, Jen's brave eyes bracing for rejection and mine welling up with the honor of witnessing such bold honesty. She stood so petite yet so fierce, but in the space of one smile and one hug any gap that may have existed was bridged. 


I had never known a dancer. In college I lived near a few strip clubs, our senior frat-guy neighbors would talk about going all the time "to watch the game" and I remember another neighbor, a sweet red-haired girl about our age who insisted she was only working her way through college. It was all at a distance. Another world. People so different from me and my friends. Or were they? Jen's story crashed into my naivete and brought a distant disgrace into the light of grace creating space within me for what would come next. Her courage sparked in me that night the light of a flame that would flicker and grow and then almost be extinguished on it's way to becoming a wildfire. Little did I know she would not only be the one to light the spark, but also one who would fan the flame over years and years of sisterhood, pushing me through fear and into freedom. All this from the courage she practiced just walking in the door that night and being honest. 

Courage is contagious. Bravery starts fires. Let's all be pyros. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

analog memory

"Can anyone's story start with her own self?
No, the story only includes us, 
and if we have any honesty at all, 
we must trace the line of time backward, 
meandering through memory and motivations 
before we move forward."
-Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist


I have a pretend clapperboard on the shelf back in the school room. You know, the black and white thing used to signal scene changes and takes in film making? Yeah, one of those. With the kids, I associate the imagery of "takes" with trying again and again while learning something new. Carsyn, my perfectionist, could watch the outtakes and special features of her favorite films all day long, which to me is perfect because I always want her to see how actors laugh, forget lines, get nervous, and joke around behind the scenes and how a film is so much more than just the sum of it's polished clips. 

With myself, I often hear that loud clapper sound in my mind when I replay the scenes in my life that string together leading up to where I stand today. I've been doing that a lot lately, wondering why I care about the things I care about. Where did these wildfires first spark? My memory is usually so foggy that it is truly an exercise to reach back further and further to trace each step passed, but in this space between the stories I have been gathering those scenes together in awe of how long ago these plot lines were first whispered. 

If I had an old film reel I would invite you to pull up a seat and 5-4-3-2-1 we would crackle our way home movie-style through what plays over and over in my mind. Like the intro to The Wonder Years, {which by the way is way more sexual than I ever remember it being and so, as it turns out, is not in fact as perfect for our two young children as we thought it would be - oops!} my memory is a little fragmented and unedited with scratches running down the squares of film as they flash on the roll up screen. And just like any good story, there are multiple plot lines that eventually collide at the climactic point which indicates, not just the nearing end of the tale, but the possibility of a new one. 

I'm working on these scenes. I want to piece them together for my own sake, for the remembering and for the wandering. I need the scenes to have sentences so that when I begin to feel lost or tired or I begin wondering why I am doing what I'm doing I can read words written for my own ears to hear reminding me of how long ago these plot lines where first whispered, how one scene has led to the next which has led to the next, how  the story doesn't start with me, won't end with me and really just barely includes me. I just need to play my little bit part like nobody's business because it's mine. My little vapor. My contribution. My verse. There will always be someone thinking and doing and saying and it better, but it is the collective verse that creates the epic.  

I will be sharing these scenes in this space as I frame them.  They may feel more analog and less digital but I'm going to take my little clapper off the shelf and get to work. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

an august August


I love turning the page of the calendar to usher in a new month. A fresh start. My tendency has been to see the many empty boxes just waiting to be filled up with fun gatherings and events, but these days I see those empty boxes a little differently. I'm boxing out more and more to preserve those spaces on purpose. To assign my strand of moments specific purposes in order that they would be spent toward living fully alive. Deep inhale. Turning the page to August, however, is one of my least anticipated calendar flips. Typically August is just hot, the vacations are over, school is around the corner, summer is winding down and I'm just wanting it to be over so we can get to cooler overnight temps. My motivation wanes and I don't really go outside much. Super fun, I know. But something about this August feels different...

au·gust

ôˈgəst

adjective
  1. inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic
    "she was in august company"

    synonyms:brilliant, eminent, glorious, grandiose, impressive, lofty, monumental



August ushers in our sixth month in this long stretch of REST. Yes, s-i-x. Half a year, friends. Half. Of. A. Year. Half a year job hunting, following a trail of breadcrumbs from one lead to the next. Half a year of depending upon the Lord to meet our needs. Half a year of waiting. Part of that has been really hard, but really, most of it has been beyond amazing. We have been given six months of REST! A half-year sabbatical! Pure gift. 

For half of a year, our understanding of the work set before us has been expanding and growing in capacity and scope, creativity and possibility. We began with the map lit up with opportunity. Seriously great connections in every single location we've ever dreamt of living popped up in the work we are pursuing. Would we seriously have to choose?  And then one by one, rabbit trail after rabbit trail, every single opportunity disappeared. Not one of the eight positions whose job description seemed written specifically for my husband's "particular set of skills" was filled with another candidate. Every light was green, every word was affirmation and confirmation that Eric should absolutely be doing this work. And then the job would vanish. Budgets were cut as a result of foreign elections, community jobs became marketing jobs, people who were set to retire didn't retire, domestic budgets were cut, and our personal favorite "Due to unforeseen circumstances this position has been canceled." What's THAT about? It didn't take long to hear God teaching us that we don't need a connection. We don't need a hook-up. HE is our hook-up. HE is our seriously great connection. HE brings his people together for His purposes. And He has been using all of those incredible opportunities to show us that He is opening up the map to the work He is setting before us. What began as us asking God where He wanted us to work so that we could move there became Him asking us where we can thrive as a family so that we can be sent out from there.

I just love it when Jesus answers our questions with another question. He invites us to participate in the making, not just follow marching orders. He allows us the space to dig into our createdness and grab ahold of the freedom He has been pouring out for over two thousand years. He reassures us that when we are chasing recklessly after Him we can't get it wrong. We can't mess up His work. It's all His. Every twist. Every turn. As long as He is the goal, our next steps will string together a lovely wandering that leaves nothing but the glow of spent freedom in its wake.

For half of a year we have been provided for. While Eric has still been teaching adjunct classes here and there and has been spending so much time pursuing his next steps, the majority of our financial provision has been just stunning. Permission to truly receive this sabbatical has been clear and during a time when our stress would normally be at it's peak we have experienced such complete peace. Even writing these words makes me shake my head in disbelief awe.

For half of a year we have been resting, but not idle. We have loved each other well and have settled into the richness of long uninterrupted conversations on the couch, parenting together in the same spaces instead of tag-teaming our crazies, summer days where pool hopping from team to lesson to club to meet stood as the most pressing obligations and now school day mornings with the house to ourselves and plenty of time and space for all the most important things. Small sparks are being fanned into wildfires and our dreams are being shaped into plans which we've come to understand do not always wait for the permission of a paycheck. We can only try to fit ourselves into so many boxes before we will simply need to create a new box.

This August we are expecting movement that will inspire reverence and admiration of the workmanship in our wandering. We are expecting grandeur. The majestic. We continue to recklessly fling every bit of our heart/soul/mind/strength upon Christ expecting the brilliant, eminent, glorious, grandiose, impressive, lofty and monumental presence of God to meet us. It might sound like a trumpet. It might sound like a whisper. Either way we are expecting an august August.