I went to a strip club

just a jesus follower

strip clubA while back I was asked by a group of pastor’s wives to go with them to strip clubs.

That sentence alone sounds strange. But hang with me.

At first I was a little hesitant. And not for reasons you might think.

I love people. Especially ones who are broken; it’s part of my calling. But, given what I’ve walked through, I know how fragile broken people can be.

And I know how insensitive the church can be.

And I was uneasy.

But, these weren’t just any pastors wives.

They had a vision.

One that longed to love on women that society had thrown aside.

It reminded me a lot of Jesus.

So, I jumped on it.

Their plan was to visit these clubs once a month to deliver a meal and gift baskets. I joined them the first night and I’ll be honest, I had NO IDEA what to expect.

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Past Due Bills and Grace…Period

IMG_6775My electrical service provider is the bane of my existence. We have been going rounds since we had a surprise $1500 electric bill one month. (Old house, poor insulation, ancient wiring, three-phase electricity, Christmas lights, and ancient electric heat.)  Without credit cards, (which I canceled years ago,) it’s been all but impossible to bring it current.

I called earlier this month to ask for an extension on the past due amount and the person I spoke with gave me until the Wednesday the 27th to pay the whole thing or be shut off.

Friday the 29th is payday, but she wouldn’t consider letting me have a two-day grace period to pay the bill. They’re reading the meter on the 28th and shut off would happen then. I tried explaining that we were waiting for the tax refund due in mid-May to cover the whole amount. She wouldn’t hear of that either.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I asked her if she was a praying person. She said she was. I explained that nothing short of Divine intervention would get this bill paid before her deadline, and I asked her to pray with me that the tax refund would come by the 27th. She was brusque and a bit put out with me, but for some reason, she did…in Jesus’ name.

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” ~ John 14:13-14

On top of everything else we’re dealing with around here, having the power shut off was something I did NOT need to worry about. You just reach a point where you’re carrying so many burdens that you can’t shoulder another. There really is a straw that breaks the camel’s back and this was it. Resolving this issue has been part of my daily prayers — without ceasing!

Tuesday night, I checked the IRS site for the status of our refund and I also checked my bank balance. The bank balance was $1.07. The IRS site said they had received my return, but hadn’t begun processing it yet. I went to bed, resigned to either having to swallow my pride and call the electric company again and beg for an extension for a second time (and hope I got someone a bit more sympathetic,) or doing without electricity overnight on Thursday until the paycheck came in on Friday.

So the morning of the 27th, this morning, I had to take the boys to the doctor and had to rush out without taking time to check my bank balance. I’m supposed to be getting a text message sent to my phone when the refund is approved and sent, and I hadn’t gotten anything. After I got back home, I sat down to eat something, as much because I was hungry as it was to gird myself for making another phone call, abasing myself to the electric company by begging for two days — TWO MEASLY DAYS — to take care of my obligations.

My husband called for my daily “I love you” reminder. He asked whether the tax refund had been deposited. I sighed and realized I had stalled long enough. As soon as I got off the phone with him, I logged into our bank account.

Despite the fact the IRS said we wouldn’t be getting anything for another two weeks…despite the fact the IRS website said they hadn’t even begun to look at our return…despite the fact that no notices had been sent to inform me of my imminent delivery…there was the full amount, sitting there in my bank account ON THE EXACT DAY I’D ASKED GOD FOR IT TO BE THERE!!

I goggled at it for a minute, trying to wrap my brain around what I was seeing. This was nothing short of a miracle. As I told the nice lady at the electric company who wouldn’t extend my grace period, nothing short of Divine intervention was going to get the money in my account in time to meet her deadline…and there it was!

I called my husband right back as the tears started to fall so I could tell him the good news.

This is God’s Grace…period.

I fell to my knees.

I fell on my face.

I ugly cried.

God meets your needs, large or small. There are so many promises of that in the Bible. There’s a reason the fourth chapter of Philippians is my favorite in the Bible.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:19.

You know, it was on my heart to stop by the bank on my way out of town after the boys’ appointments, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure HOW God was going to meet my need, whether He was going to expedite the funds or put a sympathetic person on the phone. I knew one way or another, that need would be met. And I’ll tell you what else, this miracle served to remind me that God is still watching out for me, and that my other needs are likewise being resolved. I just have to wait and trust in Him.

So that was today’s miracle. It may not seem like much to you. Some may discount it as coincidence. I’m here to tell you that to me, it’s an answer to fervent prayer.

Tonight, there was no way I was going to miss church. God showed out in a big way and I’ve been praising and worshiping all day long. I cashed two checks today. One for the electric bill, but before that, I cashed a check in the amount of my tithe. I wasn’t going to miss putting that into the offering plate tonight for anything.

Apparently, God wasn’t through showing out. The Holy Spirit started moving through our service and I’m pretty sure that at one point or another, just about everyone in the sanctuary was up at the altar praying and turning their troubles over to the Lord.

Now, it’s getting late, the kids are in bed asleep, the light bill is paid up at long last, and Priscilla Shirer’s “Fervent” Bible study is sitting on my nightstand in preparation for tomorrow. I cannot wait to see how God is going to work in my life next.

Tilting at Windmills

Don-Quixote-Windmill-smI’ve heard that the older you get and the more you experience of life, the less bothered you are by the cause of the moment that gets everyone around you twisted up in a bunch. I appreciate the youthful zeal of tilting at windmills over the “cause du jour.” I did the same when I was a kid.

But as I’m knocking hard at 50, the things that I get worked up over aren’t the things people make memes about. They aren’t the things that hundreds of thousands of people will all chime in to boycott. The things that I get worked up over directly affect my family.

I get worked up over IEPs and teachers who don’t follow them. I get worked up over whether my kids are applying themselves to learning, or improving themselves. I get worked up over unexpected expenses and paydays that are too far apart for comfort. I get worked up over the persistence of cancer. I get worked up over the colossally poor choices my kids make that have serious negative impact on the entire family for months on end. I get worked up over Georgia Power and $500 a month electric bills. I get worked up over forgotten homework and signed notes from the teacher that my kids never bother to return. I get worked up over nerve pain that lingers for months on end. I get worked up over migraines and fevers.

But then I realize, I don’t have to get worked up over any of these things at all. The change I want to see in the world starts with me. The first place to start is in the WORD. The Word says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

You see, the less time I spend worrying and getting worked up, and the more time I spend in the Word, the more the Word changes me. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ~ Romans 12-2

No, the Bible isn’t going to make teachers follow IEPs, nor is it going to lower my electric bill. What it does do is change my perspective on the things that thwart me. It changes ME. I don’t want to spend my life getting worked up over a “cause du jour” because, frankly I don’t see the point. I want to spend my life being the calm person, at peace and content no matter the blows life throws at me.

Y’all can carry on changing the world. I’ll just sit over here in my little corner of it and work on changing me instead. In the years since I’ve started doing that, I’ve seen a lot more progress made on my end than I have the other.

Pride Is The Enemy

Do you ever share with other people the nasty little things the enemy whispers in your ear to try to undermine your confidence, your happiness, your contentment in life?

Let’s face it, there are some terrible things said in our internal dialogue. Mine likes to dredge up every unkind word I’ve said, the people I’ve thoughtlessly hurt, the ill-timed attempts at humor. Then it likes to tell me I’m worthless, a terrible mother, selfish, thoughtless, irresponsible, cruel, lazy, and undeserving of anything ‘good’ in life. All my sins and transgressions prance through my thoughts, flaunting themselves at me, reminding me of failures, poor decisions, opportunities missed or ignored, woulda-shoulda-coulda.

Patch is having a tough time with his internal dialogue. At the ripe old age of twelve, his inner voice is telling himself that he’s sinned too far to ever be forgiven. He’s done too many bad things to ever deserve forgiveness. He’s worthless and unloved.

I tell my kids “If only you could see yourself through my eyes, then you’d see yourself as you truly are, not as the enemy wants you to believe you are.”

So I shared my inner voice with Patch last night. His tears stopped falling and wide-eyed in amazement, he lifted his head and said, “But that’s not who you are, Mama!”

I smiled. “I know,” I said. “That’s who the enemy wants me to think I am. But my inner voice isn’t who I am any more than yours is who you are. It’s a lie. Satan comes to steal your joy, to separate you from God and from the people who love you. The Bible says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are made in God’s image. The Bible says that you are God’s child and He loves you. The Bible also says that when you are forgiven of your sins, they are removed from you as far as the East is from the West and remembered no more. There is no sin so great it can’t be forgiven. That’s the promise Jesus came to fulfill. Because He died on the cross and rose again, your sins, no matter what they are, are forgiven. All you have to do is accept that. That is God’s mercy, His Grace.” I ruffled his hair. “I don’t deserve the forgiveness. None of us deserve it. But God offers it. When you accept it, that makes all those nasty things Satan whispers in your ear meaningless.”

“But I’m not strong enough to fight him.”

“No. You’re not. I’m not. But that’s what the Holy Spirit is for. Read your Bible. God’s Word has all the weapons you need. Pray. Dialogue with God will help you see things more clearly. Ask for help when you need it because the Bible says where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among you.”

God knows who we are. He sees us more clearly than we see ourselves. It’s our job to lift each other up, to pray for each other, to forgive each other, and not judge each other. If your internal dialogue is telling you horrible things about yourself, shameful things, don’t be afraid to share them with someone committed to praying for you and encouraging you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

As Patch said as he mounted the steps to the baptismal font, “Pride is the enemy!”

I’ll Be Watching You

Something has been weighing on my heart for several weeks now. I haven’t wanted to speak out of anger, so I’ve been waiting and praying, trying to understand exactly what it is about this social media trend that has been upsetting me so. While in Bible study today, I finally understood.

I have been seeing increasing examples of cyber-bullying among Christians. These attacks are thinly disguised as censure of perceived sinful behavior. The Facebook posts go something like this:

“It disturbs me to see so-called Christians posting Bible verses one moment and then seeing them “like” a post (of worldly content). It is very hypocritical and you need to be aware that your online activity appears on the news feed. We can see what you like as well as what you post, so be careful about presenting a moral Christian face to the online community.”

The translation of this is basically:

“I’ve been spying on you. It’s for your own good, mind you. But I want you to know that I am silently judging everything you say and do online and you are not as good a Christian as I am. As I sit here in my ivory tower, breathing my rarified air, I am following God’s laws better than you are. I want everyone to know what a good little law-follower and upholder I am because I don’t mix with undesirables or worldly things. This means I am better equipped than you to bring God’s Word to everyone than you are because my thoughts are always pure, as are the people I associate with. If you don’t want to be shunned from my Holy community of friends, you will watch what you say and do because I already am watching you, and you will have to answer to me and my judgment for it.”

Now, I’m sure this is not their intent. Bless their hearts, they mean well and likely don’t realize how they’re coming across. But seriously folks, this attitude is the antithesis of what Jesus taught. In fact, Jesus himself was censured frequently for the “inappropriate” company he kept. The Pharisees and Sadducees called him onto the carpet every chance they got about his unholy behavior and bad company. Their judgment of others’ behavior was enough of an issue at the time to result in verses about logs and splinters and letting he who is without sin take the first shot at someone.

The Great Commission is to go out and make disciples of all nations. We’re supposed to be ministering to the lost, helping those mired in worldly things find their way to Him. You’re not going to attract people to Salvation by never getting your hands “dirty.” You have to go and meet people where they live. Lord knows the world is beating them up enough. They don’t need it from you, too. They need someone to say, look, you don’t have to clean up your act before you find Jesus. He will take you as you are and through knowing Him, you will turn away from the world naturally.

The Pharisees won’t have to beat anyone up to make them do it. And really, picking on someone for making choices you deem inappropriate can be more of a stumbling block to not only their Salvation, but to those God may be trying to reach through them.

As I understand the Facebook algorithms, the more of your friend’s posts that you “like,” the more that person shows up on your feed. While our church’s modern-day Pharisees are seeing their Saved brethren stumbling and falling, I see someone trying to keep the lines of communication open with people who need it most.

Yes. I “like” posts that don’t reflect my personal values. I comment on posts that may not be in line with my personal walk with God.

Why?

Because I may be the only Christian these people ever allow into their lives. Because they know I will not judge them (it’s not my place) and they know I love them unconditionally, they are willing to put up with being prayed for and encouraged, and yes, they will accept those Bible verses I “hypocritically” post on their newsfeed.

Unlike the “Sister-Bertha-Better-Than-You sittin’ there in the A-men pew” I don’t broadcast my good works. I don’t post pictures on Facebook proving my Holy works. I don’t bring my service up when I’m out for lunch with the girls. I don’t Tweet when I’ve fed the hungry and the lost. I swear those who know what I do to secrecy, asking only that they credit God and His Grace when pressed. It’s no one’s business when these things are done.

God doesn’t care what sins people are guilty of, or what sin they are currently lost in. We are called to be His hands and feet. We are called to love and serve God’s children, however much we may disagree with how they are living. We are not called to judge. Frankly, I don’t want that responsibility.

I learned from my father to be open to opportunities to serve and to witness. When they come, I am prepared. I do God’s work, and I quietly go on. In this world of self-promotion attention whores, I can understand how someone inclined to sit in judgment would measure my “works” or my actions and find me wanting.

But a reminder to our modern-day Pharisees who are watching the ticker on their Facebook newsfeed to see what worldly thing I’m going to “like” or comment on next, rather than censure me and others for our own good, do what you’ve been called to do and pray for the salvation and well-being of those you’re so quick to judge. It’s a lot more productive and infinitely more appreciated than the censure, accusations of hypocrisy, and general fault-finding.

I can tell you from experience that the lost are much more open to the Word coming from humble people who reach out a loving, accepting hand than they are when it comes from pinch-faced, legalistic, “church ladies” judging them from their ivory towers.

Criticized For My Lack Of “Diversity”

Anyone who doubts there is a prejudice against white, middle-class, conservative Christians is myopic or misguided. It’s there. I’m here to testify.

As said representative of this group, I cannot tell you how many times casual acquaintances on social media accuse me of being racist, homophobic, or otherwise subtly criticized for the lack of “diversity” in my own postings as I share things that speak to me. I have to laugh, because the key words are “casual acquaintances.” People who truly know me and my family know the real diversity that exists within my own home and family.

Racism is anathema to me. Yes, I was blessed to grow up in an affluent household. Yes, with five children at home, my mother hired a woman to come help take care of the house and children. This woman’s skin was a different color from mine, but she loved me as one of her own and I love her still.

When I attended her funeral eleven years ago, her family invited me and my family to sit with them, because she had loved me as much as if she had given birth to me.

She always called me her “little white baby.” I didn’t think anything of it growing up. We often talked about her life, her experiences as a black woman growing up in times and circumstances so very different from my own. She was a woman of great wisdom and unique perspective on the world. She was a godly woman and it was important to her that I grow to be one, too. She read to me from the Bible and sang hymns to me for lullabies. She taught me different sewing techniques. She taught me the value of dignity and pride in one’s appearance. She taught me the value of hard work and compassion for others. She was my confidante and my moral compass.

I never knew I was supposed feel anything but love for her until she explained to me about segregation and the Civil Rights movement and how some people saw only skin color. It came as a shock to me to learn that she and I were not blood-related. That was the day I learned that love and family are not defined by blood, but by one’s heart. I learned that the only limits for love are those we place on ourselves.

Homophobia is a silly notion nurtured by small minds. My parents divorced when I was eleven and my father married a woman with four children. Two of them were gay. I never thought anything of my brother’s roommate, or my sister’s friends. They joined us for family celebrations. We exchanged gifts, laughed, joked, and showered one another with familial affection. We were simply family. When my brother’s partner (we don’t use the word “step” in my family) contracted AIDS, we continued to love him, to pray for him, to welcome him to our family events. My father prayed over him, witnessed to him, and like a good pentecostal, laid hands on him for healing.

I learned from my father’s example that we are all God’s children, deserving of His love. I learned that one cannot bear witness to the message of Christ if one’s mind and heart are closed. I learned that it is up to us to be God’s hands and feet and to love His children. It isn’t up to us to judge sin or to condemn. It is up to us to serve.

Fast forward many years.

I haven’t always lived a Christian life, or practiced Christianity. I have studied and explored other faiths, other belief systems. I have studied Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, Eastern philosphy, Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastriansim, Wicca, Druidism…I have even practiced a few of these.

But when my life fell apart, the only faith and belief that was able to save me, was the faith in God the Father, and belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I am a Christian, not because I know no other way and believe in this silly superstition, but because I have studied the world faiths and I have come to know Christianity as the one way that works for me. It is the faith that sustains me, renews me, gives me hope, encourages me, lifts me up, carries me through. When every other belief system abandoned me, Jesus Christ never left me. I am a devout Christian, not because I don’t know any better, but because I do know.

Today my family consists of three adult daughters I did not give birth to, and three children I did. One of my daughters has always referred to herself as a “brown” person – not white, not black. In truth, she’s Filipina, but people have mistaken her for Latina, middle-eastern, black…, whatever they choose to see. I see only my daughter, though I do get angry when she faces racist slurs.

I have another daughter who is Jewish, though she doesn’t practice. She is the one who married her same-sex partner this past June. My heart aches when she tells me of thoughtless and unkind remarks made to her or to her wife, whom I also consider my daughter.

The other daughter of my heart is Italian, and rightly proud of her heritage. I speak little of her because she is intensely private and I respect her right to privacy.

Of my biological children, they deal with Autism and Asperger’s as well as ADHD and all the issues of growing up different. They play with my nephew, who is Chinese.

People who know me, know all these things about me. Casual acquaintances see only that I am a white, conservative, middle-class, Christian and assume that I have always lived a beige life and eschew “diversity.” Some even take it upon themselves to educate me on “diversity.” Others criticize me for my lack of “diversity” and my bigotry towards those not like me.

Perhaps they are right and I am biased against those not like me.

Perhaps I do not understand the life experiences of someone who was not raised and loved by someone of a different race than one’s own. Perhaps I have little patience or understanding for someone who sees only the color of a person’s skin and jumps to conclusions about that person’s life experiences or their worth.

Perhaps I don’t have as much patience for people who have not studied the world’s religions and chosen the one that rings true. Perhaps I lack patience for those who believe only what they’ve been told, and make judgments on a person based on their own perception of who they believe that person to be and not who they really are.

Perhaps I have little patience for judgmental people, who see no value on someone who does not parrot their own views, beliefs, or lifestyle. Perhaps I have little use for people who must fight, abuse, or otherwise denigrate someone because they seem “different.”

Perhaps those who scream the loudest for diversity are those who understand it least.

To me, diversity has little meaning. Diversity is divisive, focusing on differences which are by and large superficial. I prefer to unite my family, different though we all may be from one another, under a banner of unconditional love and acceptance, just as I was taught in my white, middle-class, conservative, Christian home…a home that welcomes all regardless of race, religion, ethnic background, or sexual orientation.

I wonder…those who accuse me of my bigotry, or point fingers at my apparent lack of diversity, how tolerant are they of those who are different from themselves? What do their family gatherings look like? It would be ironic if the family gatherings of this white, middle-class, conservative, Christian are more diverse than those of the people who accuse me of a lack of diversity, don’t you think?

To Be A Christian

I love how Christians with sin in their past are being ridiculed as hypocrites. There is no such thing as a Christian — or anyone else for that matter — with a sinless past, save Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I’m not claiming that I’ve never sinned. Quite the contrary, in fact. I’d like to clarify the definition of a Christian for those who might be a bit foggy about what it means to call oneself a Christian. It’s quite simple. It’s the ABC’s of salvation.

I’m (A) Admitting that I am a sinner like everyone else, that I am weak and in no position to judge anyone.
“For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

I (B) Believe that Jesus Christ gave himself as a sinless sacrifice so that all the horrible things I’ve done can be forgiven by God. Man is not as forgiving.
“For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believe in Him shall not perish, but have life everlasting.” John 3:16

And I (C) Confess that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10

Oh, to be a Christian isn’t to claim I’ve lived a pious and pure life. To be a Christian is to claim that I am weak, stubborn, willful, and the absolute LAST person you would want as your champion. But by the grace and mercy of a loving Creator, this poor, pathetic wretch has been redeemed, breathed new life, filled with a new purpose, and is hopefully more noble, more loving, and more worthy for having surrendered myself to a power greater than myself for the goal of doing something good and positive in this dark world. Acknowledging the second chance I’ve been given, accountable now, more than ever, for my sinful actions, I make a conscious effort to walk away from temptation to break the laws laid out in the Bible. Sometimes my refusal to participate in things that compromise my values makes me unpopular among those who don’t share my faith. That’s okay. I expect to be despised by those who don’t understand. God loves them, too! Everything He did for me, He has offered to them, and to YOU.

I can understand how disingenuous it must seem to someone who hasn’t been privy to the long journey that took me from the horrible person I was before I committed my life to Jesus to the person I am today who struggles daily to follow the example found in the Bible of unconditional love and obedience to God’s law. But if, horrible and vile as I was, God saw something in me worth salvaging, then how much more could He offer you?