I AM NOT AN OBJECT- ONE GIRL’S STORY

I learned a lot by going to a strip club every week for over a year.  So much about my view of people and faith changed because of what I saw there. I was no longer able to label strippers as throw aways because of their choices and I learned as  much about my brokenness as they shared theirs.  Instead of being disgusted by the women in the sex industry, I became more compassionate and more determined to get to know them and hear their stories. I say that not to reveal my deeply loving heart but to expose that if a judgmental and  sheltered (by choice) person like me could become aware and eventually an activist then anyone could.

In the midst of going to the strip club, “sex trafficking” became a buzz word. Because I am a skeptic and refuse to jump on the newest and latest social justice train (because they are all equally important), I was not affected much by the new headlines about the industry. Wasn’t it just as serious before we started talking about it and wasn’t third world poverty still an important social issue? During this time I became more determined that I was not called to join a committee to talk about it or go to a banquet to acquire awareness. I felt like I knew enough about the tragedy to go out and do something about it so to the club we went.

All the clubs have their own unique atmospheres but there is one common theme- darkness.

Walking in the door I could  feel the oppression. The greed and the lust. But mysteriously at the same time I felt the presence of God’s light in a mighty way.  It was as if  the room was begging for the light but rebuking it all at the same time.

Within the first hour I spent at a strip club, I began to see a calling….and it was just so simple. Love these women. Show them that there was hope and that they had options. Just BE PRESENT. Listening and encouraging. And for the next year that is what we did.

I did not go in to the club to shut the place down. I never was looking for illegal activity to bring in the police. That was not my job. I was there to look at women in the eye and tell them they were important and their lives mattered. From there I knew God would take care of the rest.

During the time we were going we had some amazing conversations with women about worth and value. We also talked about our families and our struggles. I did not only see their brokenness. I also saw my own….my  insecurities that lead me to destructive behavior. It might not be taking off my clothes for money but I had my own pile of shattered pieces. Over the loud music, the lights and the pole, we had some sacred times sharing our hearts.

One of the women at the club intrigued me. Her name was Jasmine and everyone said that was her real name, not her stage name. There was a softness about her spirit and a humility that baffled me.  Since we went during the day and she often worked nights I did not see her often but her name came up a lot with the women and it always seemed positive.

Here she is on her first day at the club.

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Then a year ago, Jasmine (who is actually Ashley)  showed up at my house, scared, broken and seeking advice. When she came in the door I immediately felt that all those years in the club had led me to this conversation. She wanted out of the industry and was willing  to do what it would take. I have heard this story a lot so we set some goals to see if she was really serious.

She stayed at the club for several more months and was planning her exit strategy. What struck me about her was that she had a plan- cosmetology school, joining an in home business, and getting by on less cash flow. It really caught my attention that she was taking action to get where she wanted to be.

At the time she left the club,  she was pregnant so getting a job was difficult. We spent time together brainstorming money making strategies. We started having yard sales and at 8 months pregnant she would be out in the blazing heat sorting clothes and making deals. She started collecting people’s yard sale leftovers and selling them in Facebook groups. She would walk across town to deliver something and  it would be for $10. Soon people I know started to see her posts and donate more.

Then a realtor friend of mine let us go into homes she had on the market and sell what the previous owners did not take with them. Our first house Ashley helped me clean out was an all day endeavor and she insisted on helping. Her baby was 4 days old. Then the next house she got a cleaning job. They offered her $100. She said she would have done it for $20 because it was so much better than what she had to do at the club.

I saw a strength in her I knew I did not have. It was a fight in her to stay the course and integrate into a different way of life. Even though she had adapted for 8 years  into the lifestyle  in the club, she had come to the conclusion that she did not fit there and there had to be something more for her and her family. I watched as each week she got a little stronger and a little more comfortable in her own skin.

As I got to know her she told me her story. She was 19, working at Zaxby’s, with a 2 year old baby, living with her parents, and a friend from her childhood told her how she could make more money. She went to the club and as she looks back she not only appreciated the money but she said it “was fun.” Hanging out with the other women during day shift and drinking was a whole lot more intriguing than chicken tenders at $8 an hour. For a girl who struggled with anxiety and shame, she suddenly felt like “somebody.”   The club became a “second home.”  She did not have any friends outside the club so her social life revolved around the friends she made there and the excessive partying that took place each day and night.

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The money was great in the beginning because she was the “new girl.”  The older men are often drawn to young  girls who could be their granddaughters. Sad but true. Meanwhile Ashley became an alcoholic and could not raise the 2 children she  had so her parents stepped in and raised them. This lifestyle went on for the next 8 years.

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Last year there was a shift in her. She decided she could not stomach it anymore and began to disconnect. She was pregnant but she could have stayed working there- she worked throughout her last pregnancy.  “It is very dark. Dark world. It’s a whole other world inside those buildings and it starts to feel normal.” Then in February 2016 she walked out the door and has not gone back.

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I always wonder what keeps her from going back when the cupboards are bare and the bills are due and she simply says,  “I see there are better ways. I don’t want to live that lifestyle anymore. For the first time in my adult life I feel  respected.  When you work in a club, you never expect anyone to treat you nice because you feel so low about yourself.”  Her favorite verse which is tattooed on her foot is

2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we live by faith, not by sight.”

 

Ashley often quoted “I am not an object” when she was working in the club but her job required her to be an object for someone else to take advantage of….. but now she says, “I don’t feel like an object anymore. When you are in that industry you are not a person. You are not a girl. Just an object.”

It has not been easy. She has humbled herself to get food from church pantries and sell other people’s throw away stuff to make enough to help pay the bills. She can’t spoil her children anymore or buy expensive make up. But she is doing it. One yard sale item at a time she is  taking care of her children with the help of her boyfriend and parents, who are very supportive of her.  After being in an industry that is all about money, sex and drugs she has discovered that giving back has a much bigger impact on her than anything else ever did. In the midst of her own struggle I have seen her become one of the most generous and giving people I know. She attributes it all to how God has changed her because she could not have done this on her own. He rescued her from darkness and brought her into light.

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I have told Ashley several times that although I keep a healthy distance between me and the women I help, she is different. She and her family have moved from being a friend to someone I consider a part of my own family. Her tenacity and her endurance amaze me and I often think she is teaching me way more than I am her. People like Ashley change those of us who are willing to give them a chance. Our lives are richer because we see a strength that we have never known in ourselves.  It is turning pain into purpose. Shifting from surviving to truly living. You can see it in her face, the way she carries herself, but most of all you can see it in her eyes. She has come alive again.

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Moms, it is time…..

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As moms, we need each other.

We need each other when our kids are sitting quietly eating their ice cream while we talk to the insurance company for the 20th time in a day. We also need each other when our kids are running the aisles at Marshall’s farting and burping, calling each other butt faces. Either way….we need each other.

Today I watched a phenomenon….a mom giving birth to kittens. A feral mom we picked up last night and delivered her litter this morning. Hmmmm…..talk about not being ready for the delivery. I hadn’t even named her and she had now blessed my favorite blanket with afterbirth. That experience will bond a human and a cat very quickly. I have witnessed my share of kitty births but today’s was a huge awakening for me.

The mama kitty ( who my 5th grade vet techs named Amber)  had her first baby under my bed while I was in the other room drinking my morning coffee this morning. She did not pick the cozy nest I had made for her and she certainly was not deterred by the wads of dust bunnies in her newly made birthing center. As I dragged her out from under the bed with placentas and umbilical cords still hanging on, there was a kitten in a sack that she had not opened.  The kitten was struggling to breathe on his own but Amber was not tending to him. I broke open the sack, called my fellow doula, Kim, and rubbed it vigorously to try to revive him. Meanwhile, Amber was not eating the placentas or licking the other babies the way I know she was supposed to. My other new found doula friend, Mary Lucia, proceeded to suction one of the babies’ mouths because Amber was not able to keep up with the eating, nursing, licking, and birthing. No judgement here- I just pushed mine out and it did not require I eat something that looks like someone’s liver….and do it 4 times. Ewwwww…..

In my panic, I was frustrated with Amber that she was not doing what “all the other kitty moms were doing.” Didn’t she take childbirth classes? Didn’t she know it’s unacceptable to give birth under a dusty bed? Didn’t she know that neglecting the sick baby and not give it a chance was inexcusable?

Well, Amber came from a home of cat hoarders and lived outside in a neighborhood for a long time before a sweet lady decided to feed her and care for her until she found a home. Amber did not have a place to relax until 5:00 yesterday. She probably was plain tired of running from coyotes and male cats trying to hit her up and giving birth to these babies just felt like one more exhausting task. So after she had them all she curled up on the bookshelf and fell asleep. She needed a nap and she needed me to put them on her to nurse because she wasn’t ready for that part quite yet.

And in the 24 hours we have had her, she screeched all last night when she could not see me so I slept on the floor beside her so she felt safe. Since the babies have been born, when I reach out to pet her she puts her paw on top of my hand and falls asleep- she can rest knowing someone is there. She has needy moments of wanting her belly rubbed and head scratched, while my other cats were all too busy being moms to want attention for themselves. She still wants to be held and loved so she knows it is going to be ok.

How many moms do you know like Amber? Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that our parents did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs BY THEIR PARENTS.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When a mom gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into her mom’s cocaine supply at 14 because they are dealers and it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms, like my cat Amber, are children themselves. Desperate for attention and acceptance. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them have never eaten at a restaurant where the menu is not on the wall).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym). Or at the gym  or Target (no explanation needed).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addicition, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

So many moms out there never had a mom and if they did she sucked really bad. We are a generation of moms who have something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.