Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Declan Finn: a birth story.

It's been 7 weeks since our lives and souls were rocked to the core by the arrival of our first son, Declan Finn. It has honestly taken me this long just to reflect on and process the transformative experience of bringing a brand new human onto this planet enough to put it down on paper. Plus, there's been a good deal of sleep deprivation around here lately, and I'm now seizing a spare moment while the little man sleeps in his swing. (Sidebar: this has actually been written over the course of SEVERAL stolen nap moments over the last few weeks. Newborn life, am I right? It's also unedited and unfiltered. I wanted to really capture my first impressions and feelings about the birth, so I didn't reread or pick this one apart.)

My due date was May 31st, so as that day approached and eventually passed, everyone at work basically expected my water to break at my desk at any moment. Still I soldiered on, and on Tuesday, June 2nd, I tied up the very last of my I'll-be-gone-all-summer loose ends at the office, and made a facetious note on our shared calendar that I had a doctor's appointment the next day "IF I'M STILL HERE."

I wouldn't be.

That night, I had dinner with my mom (who had come up from Florida on the due date) and aunt, went to the chiropractor, and turned in early with the hubby because we were both particularly worn out that day. It's a good thing we did!

Around 2am, I woke up to contractions. I had been having them on and off all week long, but these felt like a whole different animal. I stayed comfy and timed them in bed for about an hour, catching short naps in between. They were 5 minutes apart and 45-60 seconds long from the very start, so at 3am I decided to wake Braden. "Hey babe, I think things are really happening!" He jumped right up and asked if there was anything he could do for me. I told him we should try to keep resting while we still could, so we stayed in bed while I timed contractions between brief snoozes. After a while, I couldn't sleep anymore, and he wanted to get the bags packed and loaded into the car, so we got up, showered, and had a snack. I took a long bath (and shaved my legs, of course), sat on my birth ball, and stayed very zen. Even though the contractions were as close as 2-3 minutes apart, they were still very manageable. I thought, "I could do this all day!" We called my mom at about 7am to let her know that this was it. She said "I will be there as fast as legally allowable!!" And my doula, who ended up being stuck in Edisto beach because of a huge storm. I also texted all the ladies at work to let them know that they would not be seeing me today (!), and all my best girlfriends to get the prayers rolling. We decided to take a walk by the river to keep things moving, and in the parking lot of the park, we ran into an ambulance. The driver put her head out the window and yelled "I hope you're not too close to having that baby!" I told her that actually, I was in labor right now! The back of the ambulance swung open and one of the EMTs shouted with a huge grin "Do you need help?? We can give you a ride!" We about died laughing. It was a beautiful morning, overcast and not smoking hot yet. It was wonderful to be outside by the water in the peaceful "calm before the storm," literally & figuratively, as a huge. flood-causing thunderstorm was actually brewing that day. We walked (waddled) for a while, and I paused to lean on benches or trees during contractions. Some were only a minute apart at this point, but still easy to breathe through. Once again, I thought to myself that this labor thing was a breeze. (Don't worry, those thoughts would not last the rest of the day.)

After we got back home, I hopped back into the tub for a while. Mom arrived shortly thereafter, and she & Braden started loading the car with our hospital bags (and my pillows. And comforter. And yoga mat.  And birth ball. Etc. Packing light isn't really my jam for huge life events.) Braden made me a green smoothie, and I sipped it on the birth ball while watching the Daily Show. I called the midwives around 10am, and after hearing that my contractions had been so close together for so long, they encouraged me to head on to the hospital ASAP. We hit the road around 11am, with towels under me to protect the new Prius's clean seats (just in case.) I had to really start breathing through contractions on the road, but we listened to music and luckily the ride to the hospital was short and traffic was light. We broke the rules and went in through the main entrance rather than the ER (because, ew) and made our way to labor & delivery. To my surprise, they don't admit you right away. You go to something of a pregnant lady "holding area" where you're monitored and checked to make sure the ball is actually rolling before they put you in a room. The first two nurses I met I actually knew via Daybreak, so that was pretty cool. They hooked me up to a monitor and found I was only 2 cm dilated, so they wanted me to go walk for a while to see if I would progress further. To which I responded, "Ok great. I'll just head home and be back in an hour." Well. Apparently that wasn't an option. Not only did I have to stay in the hospital, but I couldn't leave the 2nd floor! This threw me off a little bit, but we rolled with it. We proceeded to pace the halls of L&D for about an hour and a half, pausing to lean on the walls during contractions while Braden pushed on my lower back. (I didn't know this yet, but Declan was posterior, so I was in for some major back labor.) Things were starting to get painful rather than just uncomfortable, and I got a little teary wanting to go ahead and get admitted so I could settle into my labor room and get this show on the road. Luckily, when they checked me again I was nearly 4 cm and moving along nicely. The nurse said "You get to stay and have a baby!"

We moved to our big, comfy labor & delivery room at 1pm. I got changed into the nightgown I brought from home and started to settle in. We met our amazing nurse Pam, who was with us through the whole process, and found out that one of my favorite midwives, Debbie, was the one on call that day. We put on my birth playlist. I took a hot shower. I spent alot of time on the birth ball, and on all-fours on the bed to relieve some of the back pain. Braden and I used a bunch of the moves from our birth partner yoga class and they were hugely helpful with my back labor. I didn't get an IV, so it was great to freely drink as much water as I wanted to. I had also been nibbling on healthy snacks right up until I was officially admitted, so it was nice to not be starving.

I'm a very cerebral person, always in my head. Labor and birth have a fascinating way of pulling you completely OUT of your head and planting you firmly and irrevocably in your body. I had no concept of time, how much was passing, and I wasn't able to consider anything but the present moment. Up until then, my labor had been totally manageable and easy to handle. But soon the contractions were right on top of each other, my hands started shaking, and I started to wonder if I could really do this. For the very first time, I felt a little bit of fear. Many of the books I read to prepare for birth preached that labor doesn't have to be painful at all. Some insisted that birth can even be an orgasmic experience. Bless them, but clearly those hippies were smoking something stronger than I've ever experienced when they wrote all that. In the words of John Green, "pain demands to be felt." My mom, who knows her stuff, had an inkling that I was approaching transition. Sure enough, she was right. In a detached way, the fact that I could produce such sensations was utterly fascinating. In a more attached way, it was like experiencing lightning surging through my body, bringing my baby closer to us with every spectacularly powerful movement. It was like being a human thunderstorm: furious, untamable, and nothing to be done but ride it out.

At 5:45pm, my water broke, which is when stuff got really real. I was completely within myself, unaware of much of anything beyond the raging storm in my body. Nurse Pam got very close to my face and told me very gently that everything was okay, but that there was fresh meconium in the water, and I would need to be monitored continuously from here on out to make sure the baby wasn't in distress. This meant my movements would be limited to the bed from now on. Up until now, I hadn't even considered the possibility of pain medicine. My birth plan specifically said, "no pain meds." I hadn't even researched any of it in advance, because it was not even an option in my mind. But now I started to entertain the idea. I didn't want an epidural; I wanted to stay fully engaged with what was happening in my body. To stay an active participant in the process. Actually, let me clarify with a confession that my hippie earth-momma self is pretty embarrassed to share: I WANTED an epidural. Like, alot. The idea of escaping the pain completely was very seductive at that moment. But I really didn't want to be immobile, catheterized, and unable to really feel and participate in the pushing process when the time came. Plus needles in my spine give me with willies. Between contractions, I said to my nurse, "I don't want to sound like a chicken, but tell me about what pain meds are options for me right now." After talking to her, to Braden, and to my doula over the phone, I decided to try one dose of the most mild, side-effect free medication they could offer me. It honestly didn't take away any of the pain of the contractions, but it did allow me to take a breath and rest just a bit between them, which with exhaustion closing in, I really think my body needed at that moment.

Soon, very soon, I felt the overwhelming urge to push. It wasn't even an urge; my body just started pushing completely on its own accord. It was a fascinating phenomenon. I had the nurse check me quickly, as I knew there was no way I could hold back if for some reason I wasn't fully dilated yet. But hallelujah, I was 10 cm and ready to roll! Because he was posterior, I had to push in what they usually tell you is the worst position to be in: mostly on my back. Because of the meconium in the water, the special care nursery people flooded into the room, and we got this party started. Pushing was amazing, because I really felt like I was doing something to bring our little man into the world. There was a tremendous feeling of relief between each push/contraction, and the pain completely faded from my mind. It was like being an amazon warrior, calling forth every last bit of strength and endurance that was left in me, and finding reserves I never knew I had. I made alot of noise, but my husband tells me it wasn't like cries of pain, but the shouts of someone forging through a battle. We reached a moment when they told me to look in the mirror because his head was in view. That moment was transformative. I saw him, yelled "YES!", and apparently my whole face just lit up. Braden tells me it was incredible to see the transformation of my face. With fresh adrenaline, I gave the final pushes every last bit of my energy. Pushing out the head took all of my strength, and then the rest of him shot right out like a rush of water. It was 7:01pm, just 20 minutes after I started pushing. Then everything happened so fast. Braden caught the baby and put this big, chubby, beautiful boy on my chest. I don't know what I said, or if I said anything at all, but I held my little man tight for a few moments before they took him to be suctioned by the special care nurses. I felt profound relief, joy, and also just a sense of being utterly present. I didn't cry, which even for a constant weeper like myself is normal for my huge life events (I didn't cry at my wedding either.) I need to process to cry, and when I'm completely in the moment, my tear ducts need time to catch up. No one tells you this, but those minutes immediately after birth are totally overwhelming emotionally and physically. Suddenly people are pushing on your stomach, you're delivering the placenta, being stitched up and poked and prodded (I had a relatively minor tear), all while your baby is crying and being poked at himself and it seems like 10 people are in the room (apparently the cord was wrapped twice around his neck as well.) They told me from across the room that he was 10lbs 5oz (WOW!) and 21 inches long. When they brought him back and put him in my arms, Braden and I just stared at him in awe. Braden had tears running down his face as he told me how amazing I did. We both just couldn't believe that he was really here; after all this time, Declan Finn, our little buddy who had been flipping and kicking us for months, who we had been dreaming of, was finally earth-side. Our lives would never be the same.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Anxious? Here's what I know about you...

Got anxiety?

Panic attacks?

Maybe a little OCD sprinkled in for good measure?

Yep, me too.

These are things I've struggled with for most of my life, but I didn't quite know what they were until about a decade ago. (For a little background on where I'm coming from, read this post.) For the last several years, most of my "issues" have remained manageable and mostly under control, but only because I've learned alot about myself and how to treat this crazy, wonderful brain that God has given me.

If you struggle with some combination of these problems like I do, here are some things I know about you:
First, you're NOT CRAZY. I repeat,  YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.

(Best thing I ever heard during the worst of it - "Crazy people don't wonder if they're crazy." WORD.)

You are, however, pretty smart. You're probably creative and imaginative. You're empathetic, and truly care about other people. You might be a little bit of an introvert, and spend alot of time in your own head. And sometimes, you might feel very alone. But I'm here to tell you that you are not alone. The world isn't ending. And it's going to be ok.

I wanted to take a minute to share some strategies that have worked for me over the years to help me conquer these issues in my own life. (Note: thus far, I have not managed my problems with any prescription medication, though I'm certainly not opposed to it when needed.) 

1. Get out of your head! Spending too much time in my cerebral universe can be exhausting, so I find that getting physical brings me enormous relief. Going for a run, dancing, snagging my hubby for some lovin', or just getting outside and MOVING makes a world of difference. Plus, exercise gives you all sorts of happy neurochemicals that can really lift the mood.

2. Be careful what you put in your head. I have to be extremely cautious about what I watch, read, and see. Your brain has an entrance, but NO EXIT, so you better put a filter on what you allow in there. Plenty of my past panic attacks have been triggered by something I saw on TV or in a movie. Now, I don't even own a TV, and I'm VERY careful about what kind of media I ingest. I have to conciously choose to invest my time in positive media, and not give any quarter to the negative, scary, or disturbing.

3. Focus on the positive, but in a tangible way. It's much easier said than done to "just stop worrying about it" - HA! But what you CAN do is redirect your focus onto the things in your life that you love and are thankful for in a way that's a little more concrete. Write out a list of things and people you're thankful for, or draw it in a picture, or put it in a song. Create something beautiful. Or just call your mom and say, "Hey mom, I love you!" Vocalizing your thankfullness for other people is always a good idea.

4. Don't give your thoughts/fears too much credit. You're not the king of everything. Just because you think it, doesn't mean it must be so. As a worry-wort, sometimes I feel like if I can just think of every possible worst-case-scenario, then maybe, since I've thought of it, it can't take me by surprise. But just because I've thought of it, doesn't mean it's going to happen. When thoughts and fears that freak you out come your way, acknowledge them, but then try to let them float on by, as if they're passing you by like a drifting log in a river. You're on the shore. You don't need to wade in and gather up every passing stick and strap it to your back, you know?? Your thoughts and feelings are just that: thoughts and feelings. They do not dictate reality.

5. Realize that you can struggle with issues like these and still have faith. I have chronic anxiety. And I love Jesus. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Which might be very obvious to you, but during the worst of my stuggles, I was told on multiple occasions by a variety of religious folk that "if I just had enough faith" I would be cured. Fixed. Healed. Which is, frankly, absolute bollox. God is not my personal genie or vending machine, doling out good things I think I deserve on command. And Jesus never promised an easy, flawless, perfectly-healed life. He does, however, promise grace, love, hope and peace. And I can have all of those things with an anxiety disorder. Or cancer. Or HIV. Or whatever. Now I'm not saying that the Bible tells us to live in fear, because it doesn't. But the Bible does say that in this world there will be troubles and pain, but that Jesus has conquered the world. John 14:27 - Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

If this post has struck a chord with you, please know that more than anything, you are not alone. You are among friends, and good company at that! Do you have some strategies that have worked for you? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Sunday, October 14, 2012


She is far more precious than jewels and her value is far above rubies or pearls. Proverbs 31:10

It's been 2 weeks since I flew home from Strip-Church training in Miami, and honestly I'm still reeling from all the knowledge, emotion, and information that was packed into my brain-case over 48 very intense hours. I've been wanting to write about the experience since I got back, but I really needed to give myself some time to process it all before I tried to put it down on paper! 

I arrived at the hotel around 1:00am that Thursday night, nervous and excited and so pumped-up that it was hard to fall asleep! (Luckily, I had the most comfy hotel bed in history, so that helped.) When I woke up Friday morning, I was greeted by a spectacular view of the Atlantic ocean. It felt so good to be back in sweet-home-south-Florida!

I had a couple of hours to spare before training began, so put on my swim-suit, grabbed some coffee and my Bible, and headed down to the beach, where I read, swam, prayed, and floated around with a gaggle of Russian tourists. (Can you think of a better way to start the day??) 

As I got ready to go downstairs for our first training session, my heart pounded in my chest. I couldn't believe I was actually here! Soon, I would meet Harmony Dust, the founder of Treasures, and the woman who's book was the first thing I read after God told me to start a ministry to women in the sex industry. Soon, I would see the faces behind Strip-Church and XXXChurch, missionaries who are on the front-lines of this industry. I couldn't wait to meet them all! When I reached to conference room, it was filled to the brim with beautiful ladies from all over the world. Immediately, I was warmly welcomed into a sea of incredible gals, each with a story, each with a passion, each with a heart to reach hurting women. I was instantly blown away by these women, and am now honored to call many of them friends. We dove right in with both feet, kicking off the weekend by assembling over 900 gift bags to go out that very night. 

The training was being hosted by Strip Church's Miami division, BeLoved, so I assumed that we would be visiting clubs that they had already been doing ministry in. You know, break the rookies in easy. 

I assumed wrong. 

Every one of the 20 clubs on that evening's agenda had never, ever been reached before. (Talk about intimidating!) But the very full day of training was designed to send us into each those clubs calm(ish), equipped, and empowered. After a jam-packed day of learning, growing, and sharing, it was time to prepare for outreach. And suddenly I felt sick as a dog. Out of the blue, for absolutely no reason, I was so nauseous I could hardly move. So instead of going out to dinner with the girls, I retreated back to my room, crawled into bed, and ordered a $20 fruit plate and Pellegrino from room service. I laid there for 2 hours, crying and praying desperately to feel better and FAST. We were about to go on outreach! This was easily the worst possible timing in the universe for stomach problems. I got my husband, my mom, and my best friend praying too. When 7pm rolled around, I shakily got dressed and headed downstairs. Apparently, I looked a little green once I reached the meeting room, and the amazing sisters in Christ that I had just met a few hours before laid their hands on me and prayed earnestly for my healing. How grateful I was for those precious women! After they prayed, I felt infinitely better, and didn't have another stitch of trouble for the rest of the night. PTL!!

My friends and prayer-warriors!
As the sun set, we all prayed and worshiped in one voice, anticipating the night ahead. Nervous and excited, we filled 3 vans and each headed on a different route of Miami strip clubs. One of the big things we had learned in training that day is that just getting the gifts in the door is the WIN. We were told not to expect to set foot in many (or even any) of these clubs, as this is really a seed-sowing, relationship-building ministry. By nature, this kind of outreach requires a major time-investment and consistency, and since this was the very first time that any of these clubs had been visited, we knew we were out to water hard ground. 

Our van visited 6 clubs that night, and we were able to personally go inside 5 of those clubs and hand-deliver the gifts to the girls. WOW! 3 of the clubs even let us back into the dressing rooms, an amazing place to interact with the girls without the distraction of customers, loud music, and general chaos. And their reactions were so beautiful. Many of the girls just couldn't believe we were giving them something for free, with no strings attached. Their faces lit up when we handed them the gifts, and many of them thanked us profusely. Incredibly, even the bouncers and managers we talked with that night were super nice and receptive to our visit. One nattily-dressed manager at an extremely upscale club asked us "What is this all about?" And when we told him that we just wanted the girls to know that they're loved, his face broke into a huge grin. "Right on!" he said, and ushered us onto the floor. We were able to put gifts in the hands of about 50 girls at that club alone.

At one club, we couldn't help but notice the face of the girl half-heartedly twirling on stage. She was completely exposed, and her expression so clearly told the story that she would rather be anywhere but here. She noticed us as we walked through the club handing out gifts, and her face became eager, not wanting to miss out just because she was on-stage. One of our group purposely made eye-contact with the girl, smiled at her warmly, and set a gift on the edge of the stage just for her. I pray it brightened her night just a little, and reminded her that there really are people out there who care.

That night, our van alone gave out close to 300 gifts, and visited every kind of club you could imagine. From places so sketchy, you wouldn't be caught dead on that block after dark, to places where I couldn't afford a single car in the parking lot. Each place filled with women who Jesus loves. In total, our group gave out 900 gifts in 20 Miami clubs in 1 night! 

Me with Treasures founder Harmony Dust! 
The next day dawned early, and armed with copious amounts of coffee, we met again in the ocean-front conference room to rehash, reflect, and share our stories from the night before. It was an inspiring time. The rest of the day was filled with the nuts-and-bolts of running a ministry, and when it ended all too soon, I felt so completely empowered and equipped to return to SC and hit the ground running. It was a life-changing weekend, and the hand of God was all over every second of it!
Incredible women of God from all over the world!
And that bring me to what God is doing now. Since I returned home from Strip-Church training, I have joined the network and started an official Strip-Church chapter in Columbia, SC: Pearls. Click here to check out our website! Why Pearls? Because a genuine pearl is rare, beautiful, and extraordinarily valuable. A pearl is also the only precious gem in nature that is created through struggle. A pearl can only occur when its vessel has been wounded, and the vessel has to create something exceptionally beautiful to heal the pain. I want women to know that they are pearls - precious, valuable, a treasure, and made even more beautiful by the story that brought them here today.

I'm now in the process of assembling a team of passionate women who want to show the love of Jesus in some very dark places. If you are interested in being a part of the Pearls team in any way, whether through prayer, care, outreach, or financial support, I encourage you to mark your calendar for Saturday, November 3rd. I'll be hosting a volunteer training & interest meeting, and I would love to see you there. Interested? Shoot me an e-mail at stripchurchcolumbia@gmail.com, and I'll send you all the details. Last night, we did our first local outreach since returning from training, and I can't wait to tell you all about it! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recommended Reading: Unleash!

So before I say anything, go ahead and click that link and watch the book trailer.

Don't worry, I'll wait.


Are ya back? 

Are you excited about this book yet? 

Cause I sure was! Sometimes, (ok, OFTEN), Christian books can be kinda, well, "churchy." And highfalutin. And "just have enough faith and everything will be perfect"- centered festivals of fairy-dust and rainbows.

This is NOT one of those books!

Pastor Perry Noble is REAL, honest, and shoots from the hip. He is just a flawed, normal, and exceptionally down-to-earth guy who wants to see people embrace the love of Jesus in their lives. Which is one of the many reasons that I am proud to call him my pastor. This book has challenged me, encouraged me, and made me want to be brave in the face of the call God has put on my life. This book has helped me to understand the love of God in new ways, and it has helped me learn to trust God more deeply, even when everything SUCKS. Cause life is going to suck sometimes. But our circumstances do not change the character of God. 

On tragedy: "David's response to tragedy is an example for all of us: he got up, punched the lion in the mouth, and took his sheep back! He refused to let tragedy identify him and instead chose to walk in the triumph God gave him." ~Unleash!

On trust: "Whenever I place her [my 5 year old daughter] in a situation where she has to take a step of faith and trust me, I want her to be confident thats she's jumping into the arms of a daddy who wants nothing but the best for her. Why in the world would we think anything less of our Heavenly Father?" ~Unleash!

On God's love: "God wants to hear us laugh. God is not after our begrudging submission. He is after our Joy." ~Unleash!

"His love is not based on our performance but rather on our position as His children." ~Unleash!

On obedience: "If people crucified Jesus for following God's plan for His life, then you and I can't expect obedience to be a day at a theme park." ~Unleash!

"Jesus said that if we are going to be His followers, we have to take up our cross, not our mattress." ~Unleash!

This book is a breath of fresh air, and if you're ready to take the leap into the incredible plans that God has for your life, READ IT!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Showing some love.

I spent last Saturday night hanging out in strip clubs. 

And it was AMAZING.

Let me back this up a bit for you:

A couple of weeks ago, by God's incredible grace and perfect planning, I learned that one of my after-school program volunteers has been doing her own brand of strip-club outreach in Columbia for a few years now, and she invited me to come along on last weekend's outing with herself and another sister-in-Christ. Bearing freshly-baked cookies, long-stemmed roses, and a message of hope, we headed out in the pouring rain to 3 local strip clubs on a dark and stormy Saturday night. Before even getting out of the car at each club, we joined hands and prayed fervently for God's anointing, protection, and provision. We prayed for open doors, open hearts, and that every girl, bouncer, manager, and owner would come to know the love of Jesus Christ. 

At our first stop, my heart was in my throat and butterflies were doing a what seemed to be a mating dance in my stomach. After being turned away at the door during my first outreach last month, I was fearful about what would happen next. We walked to the door, (a bouncer-free door, might I add), and walked right into the club. The first girl we got to speak to was working the front, collecting cover charges. We handed her a rose and a bag of cookies, and her eyes lit up at the small gifts. We spoke to a bouncer and the manager, and after reassuring them that we weren't selling anything, just giving gifts, they welcomed us into the club with open arms. (I don't think it hurt that we gave them some cookies too.) It was only about 7:00pm, so there weren't a ton of customers in the club yet. We gave roses and cookies to the bartender, and to two more girls who were working the floor. A girl in glowing neon lingerie was flabbergasted that we were just "giving gifts" with no strings attached. She asked us if we were taking donations or anything, but we insisted that we just wanted her to have them because she's special and loved. Her smile lit up the room. The bouncer (already stuffing his face with the cookies we gave him), directed us to the girl's dressing room, where we got meet three more ladies who were getting ready for their shift. When we first walked into the dressing room, the looks the girls gave us were incredulous, but when we started handing them the gifts and telling them that they are loved, they couldn't contain their smiles. They thanked us profusely, told us they loved us, and said that the gifts just brightened their night. We left that club on cloud-nine, blown away by how open they were to our visit! We will definitely be visiting this club on a regular basis, building relationships with those precious women who Jesus loves so much.

Our second stop was something of a "super-club" - huge, flashy, and part of a big corporate chain. We arrived before dark, and there were already easily over 100 cars in the parking lot. We knew this club would be a particularly tough nut to crack, and we were promptly turned away cold at the door. We weren't event allowed to leave any gifts for the girls. But a very nice bouncer was kind enough to walk the three of us back to our car with a giant umbrella to shelter us from the torrential downpour. I had a good talk with him on the way to the car, and he was kinda stunned that we had come just to bring cookies and flowers to the girls. He even thanked me for wanting to do something so nice. We won't give up - who knows, maybe next time will be easier.

The third club we hit made me extra nervous, because it was the same one that I got turned away from last month. When we pulled in, there was a bouncer at the door, so I expected it to go very much as before. We prayed in the car again, and by the time we were approaching the front door, something interesting had happened. The bouncer was waaaay across the parking lot, helping someone else to their car with an umbrella. The door was unguarded. So we walked right in. In the front room, we met two sweet girls and gave them roses and cookies. One of them even recognized my friend from past visits she had made to the club! They told us they couldn't let us carry the gifts onto the floor ourselves, but that they would be happy to personally deliver the gifts to girls in the dressing room, and they thanked us for coming. We never once had to deal with a bouncer - praise God! 

Overall, we were able to give gifts to 40 girls at 2 different clubs in 1 night! It was incredible! Thank you to everyone who has been my prayer partner in this - your prayers are coveted, and they were felt this past weekend! And I still desperately need you help - here's how you can be a part of this:

1. Strip Church training in Miami is just over 2 weeks away! I'm so excited, but I still need to buy my plane ticket to Miami! The round-trip ticket I need is currently $397 - this is the last expense I need covered for the trip, and I am praying with all my heart that God will provide this last chunk of money SOON!

2. PRAY. Continue to pray for open doors to these clubs, open hearts for the owners and managers, and the the hearts of the girls would be ready and willing to accept the love of Jesus Christ. Pray for physical and spiritual safety and protection. Pray for God's mighty provision. And pray that we are able to build consistent relationships with these precious women, showing them first-hand the freeing love of Jesus.

John 8:1-11
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jesus would've hung out at strip clubs - Part 2

Wow, so much has happened since God spoke to me about starting an outreach to women working as exotic dancers just a few short weeks ago! First of all, it has been confirmed again and again and again that this is what I'm supposed to be doing RIGHT NOW. The people God has put in my path, the provision, and the massive spiritual warfare that has been faced all shout, "YES!" And it's been both exciting and terrifying in almost equal measure :) Here's a re-cap of what's been shakin':

1. I am officially registered for the Strip Church training in Miami at the end of this month! God has provided the funds for the training itself and for the hotel (PTL!!) I'm still praying that the $350 I need for the airfare comes through soon!

2. On Friday, July 27th, I did my very first strip club outreach! It didn't go quite as I expected, but it was a great first step, and I know that God had it go just the way that He had planned.

With the help of many friends who so generously donated their hard-earned cash, I was able to assemble 40 gift bags for the first outreach. Each bag contained fun stuff like nail polish, lip gloss, lotion, candles, hair accessories, etc., a simple message of hope and encouragement, and an invitation to Newspring church.

My hubby drove me to the club at about 7:30pm, where I was met by a brave friend who had only just heard about my plan earlier that afternoon! We enthusiastically brought our heavy boxes brimming over with frilly pinkness to the door, only to be stopped cold by two surprisingly nice bouncers. Long story short, they wouldn't let us bring the bags into the club. However, they did let us leave the bags for the girls to take home if they wanted to. Needless to say, I left the club extremely discouraged that night. But I now realize that the way things went did not take God by surprise. He knew what was going to happen, and it was a part of His perfect plan. I was obedient. I took the steps I knew I needed to take. And even though I didn't get to see the "end of the rainbow" that night, it's ok. I'll get to see the end of the rainbow soon :) Overall, I would say it was a great first night - but the best is yet to come!

3. God has brought so many amazing women into my life over the past several weeks who's hearts are also stirred and burdened by this ministry. This, to me, is the most beautiful confirmation. Once I come back from Strip Church training, there will be an incredible team of women just waiting to take this city by storm with me! God has also recently brought a woman into my life who used to be in the industry who has been doing a very similar outreach for a few years here in our community. This coming weekend, I will be accompanying her to a few different clubs, and I'm SO excited to learn and grow and start building relationships with these girls!

So, wanna get involved? Here's how you can help!

-PRAY. The spiritual warfare I've felt since beginning this whole thing is unlike anything I've ever encountered before. Pray for protection, for safety, for peace, for freedom from fear, for open doors into these clubs, for the club owners and managers to have open hearts, and most of all, for these beautiful women who Jesus loves!

-DONATE. I still need about $350 to buy a round-trip ticket to Miami for the training, and I KNOW that God will provide what I need to get there! And there will be an ongoing need for donations of money and/or items to fill the gift bags - each bag costs about $4 to make. If you'd like to help in any way, here's a PayPal link for making secure donations: https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/send-money-online. The e-mail address is: shouldve.been.a.supervillian@gmail.com. I don't have a 501c3 yet or anything, but I will match any donation with hugs and cookies :)

For all of you who have been praying for and supporting this adventure already, I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your prayers have been FELT, and without the generous donations of a few incredible people, none of this would be possible. I cannot wait to see what happens next! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jesus would have hung out at strip clubs.

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity 
Give me your arms for the broken hearted 
Ones that are far beyond my reach. 
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten 
Give me your eyes so I can see 

Matthew 9:10-12 - While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

Has God ever told you to do something terrifying? Something so outside your comfort-zone that you don't even know where to begin? Yeah. That's where I've been for the last month or so. So let me tell you what I'm talking about.

Several weeks back, our church announced that we'd be buying a permanent facility in the near future - an old Kmart to be exact. So a few days later, Braden and I were coming back from a kayaking trip and drove by the new building. Which happened to be directly across the street from a local strip club.

It was at that moment, while I sat muddy and damp in the searing heat of an AC-less truck on a summer day, I felt God speak to me so clearly that it was almost audible: "You need to start a ministry for strippers." 

I was stunned. And I had no idea where to begin. But I did know that I needed to step forward in obedience, trusting God to pave the way before me. My heart has always been for hurting women, which is why I've chosen the work I do at Daybreak. Even from the time that I was a young kid, I would think about and pray for the women working inside strip clubs when I passed by one. So since that day last month, my heart has been burdened to the point of breaking for these girls. These are women who Jesus loves - who Jesus died for. And I just want to help them KNOW how loved, special, and treasured they are by God. That they matter. That they have value. An that they deserve real love, respect, and healing. They might not feel comfortable coming to a church, so I think that the church needs to come to THEM!

In the past few weeks, I've done alot of research on ministry to the sex industry, and have learned some sobering statistics: 

There are more women employed by the sex industry than any other time in history[i].
There are more strip clubs in the United States than any other nation in the world[ii].
Human trafficking is the second largest global organized crime today, generating approximately 31.6 billion USD each year. Specifically, trafficking for sexual exploitation generates 27.8 billion USD per year[vi]. There 1.39 million victims of commercial sexual servitude worldwide [vi].
Research related to women working in various aspect of the sex industry is telling. Such research indicates that women working in the sex industry are faced with higher rates or drug addictions[ix], sexually transmitted diseases[x], violent assaults[xi], and mental health problems[xii] such as Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than the general population.

Between 66% to 90% of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children[xiii]. 70% of interviewees in a study by Silbert and Pines noted that childhood sexual abuse had an influence on their entry into prostitution[xiv].
Women in the sex industry experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at rates equivalent to veterans of combat war[xv].
89% of women in the sex industry said they wanted to escape, but had no other means for survival [xv].
73% of women in prostitution have been raped more than five times. vi
70% of females who are trafficked are trafficked into the commercial sex industry[xvi] (This includes Porn, Strip Clubs, and massage parlors in the US)  (All stats from www.iamatreasure.com

In my research, I've discovered an incredible ministry called "Treasures." Founded by Harmony Dust, a precious woman who's book I could not put down, Treasures is a nation-wide organization that does outreach to anyone and everyone working in the sex industry. And if God will provide the funds, I want to attend their training in September to open an official chapter of the ministry here in Columbia, SC. 

I don't know what exactly the ministry will look like yet, but I'm trusting God to lead every step of the way. Some preliminary ideas include bringing scripture-filled gift bags of cosmetics, jewelry, and other fun items to the girls, holding a Bible study for them, bringing them meals and goodies, etc.

So because of a huge outreach event happening this Sunday at my church, feel like I need to get started THIS WEEK by bringing gift bags and goodies with invitations to Sunday's outreach to some of our local strip clubs. I'm not going to lie - this is both exciting and terrifying for me! 

So this is what I need from YOU, fair reader and friend. And I'mma be BOLD with ya!

1. PRAYER. I know that ministry of this kind is brutally opposed by the enemy, but I know that our God is greater! Prayer is the only weapon that will stand.

2. MONEY. Let's get real. I work in non-profit. My husband is a student. I can't afford to fund this ministry. But if God wants it to happen, it will. So here's what I need: 

-Donations to purchase items for gift bags (or brand-new items to fill them with, i.e. nail polish, makeup, lotion, perfume, jewelry, accessories, etc.) 

-Donations to get me to the Strip Church training in Miami this September. Incredibly, the $250 for the training has already been donated! Praise God! But I still need $150 for one night in the hotel, and roughly $250 for the plane ticket (last time I checked.) 

This is big stuff, I know. So I'm just putting it out there. God is bigger than the big stuff! 

Want to make a donation? Click here to make a secure donation via PayPal. Just enter the e-mail address: shouldve.been.a.supervillian@gmail.com. I'm not a 501c3 or anything, but I can promise you that every single cent donated will go directly into this outreach. 

It really all comes down to this statement that I found on www.jesuslovestrippers.net: "Our purpose is to LOVE. It is not to "fix" women or convince them to leave or follow Christ. We show God's powerful and practical love and meet women right where they are at. In the context of real relationships, true love can be seen and experienced."

So. All that said. Will you join me? 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

You had the noodle dream?

As Southern cities go, Columbia South Carolina ain't too shabby when it comes to unearthing a sparkling handful of gastronomical gems. While we lack the tourism and flash of Charleston or Savannah, Columbia has its own special brand of river-cloaked historical charm that I've grown to love over the last few years. You won't find restaurants graced with a celebrity face with lines round the block, but if you're willing to dig, you can find some truly divine places in which to savor and imbibe. 

Braden and I have become unashamed and (mostly) unpretentious foodies, and we pride ourselves on finding/trying the most fabulous & interesting places to eat in any city we visit. So we've decided to start writing down our blissful, full-bellied observations, starting right here in our current home-town.

Menkoi Ramen House

When we heard a few days ago that a brand-new ramen restaurant had opened on Gervais, we knew that it simply had to be a part of our weekend agenda. We walked toward the noodle-house with bated breath, praying that this might be a rare exception to "The Vista Rule:" A phenomenon that seems nearly inescapable in this part of Columbia's geography. Dining establishments in the Vista almost exclusively fall into only 3 categories: chain joints, bars, or independent places with decent but grossly overpriced food. The rare exception, (like the sorely missed Peace, Love, & Rocky Roast), tends to quickly fade away, driven into poverty and ruin by the Vista's insanely high operating costs. The Ramen house is located next to Mojitos, where Z-Pizza used to reside. We walked in and were greeted by fabulous smells and a super-friendly staff. The menu is short and straight-forward; 7 different kinds of ramen, and a small handful of other dishes, everything under $8.50. We ordered the spicy ramen and the miso ramen (requesting that it be quite spicy as well.) We wanted to try a rice ball, but they were, apologetically, all out. (Next time.) The food arrived very quickly - two enormous, steaming bowls of noodles and broth. 

Loaded with bean sprouts, vegetables, seaweed, and a few tender slices of pork, these noodles were out of this world. The broth was perfectly spicy, (kicky and sinus-clearing without being tongue-numbing), and the flavors were complex, fresh, and vibrant. I devoured my entire bowl and enjoyed each bite more than the last. (BTW, there is no elegant or lady-like way to eat a bowl of noodles with chopsticks. Perhaps skip this place as a first-date destination.) Overall, we were extremely impressed; Menkoi Ramen House has definitely carved out a spot on our permanent rotation. Especially for late-night munchies - they're open until 3am! We can only hope that the swarms of noodle-loving, nocturnal college students that will descend on the city this fall will help keep this place in business, and that "The Vista Rule" will finally be proven wrong. 

Menkoi Ramen House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Adventures in Ireland

Travel is just about my favorite thing. 

New places, new experiences, new people, and new adventures get my heart pounding in a way that almost nothing else does. I've had the privilege of visiting 8 other countries so far, and I can't wait to add dozens of new stamps to my passport. 

So since I love travel, and I love writing, I thought it might be fun to start putting a handful of my favorite adventures on paper in a series of short(ish) vignettes. And you, my loyal blogger audience of roughly 18 people, will be the first to read them! 

But where to start? 

How about the first BIG adventure I ever shared with my hubby - our honeymoon! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the the tall, sometimes ridiculous tale that wove together to become the beauteous memory of our honeymoon trip to Ireland...

~ ~ ~

After a wedding that could not have been more magical and two nights of R&R on the beach, my new husband and I donned our matching "Bride and "Groom" t-shirts and caught a ride to the airport with my fam to board the first leg of our trip to Ireland. Looking back, we were so absurdly young, starry eyed, naive, and high-on-fairy-dust that it was a miracle that we managed to make it through the next two weeks without getting mugged, grifted, or otherwise taken advantage of. Stop 1 - Laguardia International. Our flight from West Palm Beach had been running behind schedule, so when we arrived in NYC, our 35 minute layover was painfully reduced to a mere 15 minutes, and we had to change both terminals and airlines to make our connection. After following all of the appropriate signs, we ended up... outside on the street in New York City. As we stood staring idiotically at a very poorly drawn map of the airport, we were approached by an apparently Caribbean man who asked us where we were going. We told him "Ireland," and he laughed and said, "An Island? Oh good! I'm from an island too! hahaha!" We then told him we needed to get the the American Airlines terminal within the next 10 minutes, and he told us to get on the empty, unmarked bus that was waiting on the curb with him, and he would take us there. Yeah, to this day we're not really sure if this man even worked for the airport, but we were desperate, so onto the bus we hopped. This began an elaborate journey through the city that involved very nearly hitting several yellow cabs and stopping to chat with multiple random strangers along on the side of the road. At this point for me, small seed of panic began to set in. When we finally arrived at the American Airlines terminal, our flight already boarding, we were ushered into a painfully long line of other equally stressed-out international travelers. After realizing that actually waiting in this line would cause us to absolutely miss our flight, I frantically flagged down the first airline employee I could make eye-contact with. We showed him our tickets, and with his own ashen face matching ours, he ran us in front of the line to the counter. (Sidebar: when airline employees panic, you know you're in trouble.) After telling the guy behind the counter to "Work his magic," he handed us back our tickets, and in a deadly serious voice, said "you're going to have to run." And run we did. To the security check-point. Where we had to wait in another maddeningly long line to have our bags x-rayed and be felt-up by surly TSA agents. By the time we made it through the metal detectors, we were in a dead sprint in nothing but our socks. We finally reached the plane, shoeless and sweaty, just as they were closing the doors. Success! But before we even had time to savor the sweet relief in our cramped economy seats, an announcement came over the PA system: "Well ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we're 43rd in line for take-off, putting us about two hours behind schedule; so if you need to reschedule your connections, here's the phone number." So we pick up the phone to see if there were any other flights from Chicago to Dublin. There weren't. But we could sleep in O'Hare if we wanted to! (Because all of my most beautiful honeymoon fantasies involved sleeping on a disease-riddled chair in the biggest air-hub in the US.) So we started to pray, and miraculously, not five minutes later, the pilot makes another announcement, "Well everyone, I guess it's your lucky day, we're #3 for take off!"


And we were on our way to Chicago. (Because just one layover in the US wasn't enough.) Luckily, O'Hare went over without a hitch, and before we knew it, we were soaring over the Atlantic toward the Emerald Isle.
 If you've never had the pleasure of an overnight trans-Atlantic flight, I must tell you, it's quite a gas. You think you'll be able to sleep the whole way, but if you've ever been a 6ft tall human with a 35 inch inseam in coach, then you're already laughing at me. They serve you dinner, (which was surprisingly piping hot and not bad), you get to watch two movies (Finding Neverland and something else I don't remember - I only caught glimpses while flopping around in a futile search for comfort and fighting my new husband for leg space.) And then, at 1:00am Eastern Standard time, the sun was up, shining brightly into our bloodshot eyes, and breakfast was being served. So sleep was at a premium, but we were still totally pumped. After all, we were newlyweds! On our way to Ireland! In matching t-shirts! Yay! And after a mere eight-hours of not being able to feel my legs, there it was: Ireland! A brilliant green patchwork of fog-wrapped mountains and rolling farmland - it was truly breathtaking. Now we really started to get excited. We hit the tarmac, and after grinning our way through (reason for your visit? We're on our honeymoon! Squee!), we gathered around the luggage carousel to wait with all the other happy people who had blood flowing to their legs once again to pick up our things. 

So we waited. 

And waited. 

And waited. 

The crowd dwindled, and soon we were all alone, crickets chirping, empty carousel spinning.

Yep, they'd lost our luggage. So we filled out the standard lost-baggage report, trying not to be discouraged, (cause we're honeymooning, gosh darn it!), and headed over to pick up the rental car we'd reserved on Expedia. We found our little tram to the rental office, and enjoyed the brief ride through Dublin. At the office, and I stepped into the restroom while Braden went to sign the paperwork. A few minutes passed, and when I came out, Braden had the most ashen look on his face. "They won't give us a car” he said with an impressive amount of calm, “because we're not 25." Oh. Good. Lord. We'd already paid for this car. Nothing in the fine print had mentioned an age restriction. Our itinerary required us to get to a castle that was about two hours out into the boonies that night, and then drive cross-country a few days later. A rental car was the only way for us to get where we needed to go. But, alas, we were only 20 and 21 years old. Praise God for my level-headed, crisis-ready husband, because for me, that was when the real panic set in. They told us that our only option was to return to the airport and plead our case to the other car rental companies, but they warned us that it probably wouldn't do any good. This was when I started crying. So we prayed. And by the time we made it back to the airport, I was a complete basket case. There were about five more rental companies, so we started working our down the line, telling our sob-story every time. 

Company #1: "Sorry, 25 only." 

Company #2: "Sorry, 25."

Company #3: "Sorry, 23 is the youngest we go." 

Company #4: "Nope, can't help you"

By this point, I was ugly-crying like an infant. Our dreamy honeymoon seemed to be over before it even began. And then we reached Company #5: IrishCarRentals.com. Our last and only hope. Everything, everything, was hanging on this moment. I proceeded to tearfully and pathetically tell them our whole sordid tale, which to the best of my memory went something like this: "We're on our honeymoon -sniff- and they won't give us our rental car -sob- just because we're young -snarf- and we're going to have to just turn around and go back to America if you can't help us -bawl- and we just don't know what to do -bahahahaha-" and so on and so forth. It may have been even less rational than that. I can't really remember. When I paused to catch my breath, the woman at the desk just sat there and starred at us for what seemed like an eternity, until she cracked a sympathetic and slightly bemused smile and said "Well enjoy your honeymoon then." We may have actually jumped up and down with elation, not even thinking of the extra 20-euro-a-day underage-charge; finally, 20 hours after we'd last slept, our adventure could begin! So we climbed into our fabulous little European car, (Braden was an instant whiz with the opposite-side manual transmission and the opposite-side-of-the-road driving), and began to make our way to our first spectacular destination, Castle Leslie...

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rose-colored glasses

For those of you who know me well, you know that since childhood I've often been accused of being a fairy-dust-rainbows-and-unicorns brand of dreamer/thinker.

Oh Lisa Frank, you just get GET me

I thrive on whimsy, adventure, and pie-in-the-sky ideas. And some dodgy folks have always made it their goal to bring me back to earth with a harsh dose of "reality," as they say.

But today, I am here to say "bugger-off" to the trolls of negativity.

Yes, the world can be a hard place. There is sadness and tragedy and pain. I know, because in my line of work, I am neck-deep in it every day. But what could possibly be wrong with seeking out the beauty, the whimsical, the dreamy, the little nuggets of magic, in even the most mundane moments of everyday life? Because it's often the small things, the little "blips of joy" as my mom likes to call them, that transform ordinary days into glorious days.

I don't believe in "ordinary" days. I believe in joy. I believe in making every day the happiest day of your life. I believe in spontaneity,  adventure, whimsy, and laughter. I believe in night-swims, fireflies, floating down rivers, dancing under moonlight, plucking wildflowers, running in the rain, throwing yourself into the ocean fully-clothed (or fully-nude, if the setting is right), exploring in bare-feet, lighting candles, dancing like a fool, celebrating every occasion, and just generally soaking up God's glory to the fullest during my short time on this earth.

John 10:10
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

I named this blog after a quote from poet Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

We only get ONE life friends. It's a gift from God. Every moment has purpose and a meaning. The fact that you just breathed one more breath means that there's still a reason for you to be here. You are not an accident. Where you live, what you do, the people you encounter, the trials you've suffered - none of it was by chance. Your life doesn't start tomorrow, or when you finish school, or start that perfect job, or meet that perfect person. Your life is happening RIGHT NOW. Isn't that extraordinary?

So tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?