A War For Their Hearts


This week has been a strange week for my brain. It’s been a little overwhelmed with thoughts about Syria and trying to make sense about what’s happening over there, reading FB posts about Miley Cyrus, and then sitting in a brand new strip club that had both my eyes and mind in overdrive. The first thing I thought as I sat in a super comfy chair with the green laser lights blinding me was, “Is that twerking?”

I might be the only 31 year-old puzzled by the term ‘twerking’ but here is what I now know today on twerking and all that comes with it:

1. Twerking was coined nearly 20 years ago in 1993 by DJ Jubilee. Miley Cryus is a little behind the curb. The only thing different 20 years ago? There were on giant teddy bears involved.

2. Stripping did not evolve out of modern society. Strip teases and erotic dancing can be found clear back to ancient Babylonia. It is mentioned by Thomas Otway in 1651 in the comedy “The Soldier’s Fortune” and in 1707 in the German translation of the French La Guerre D’Espange. Even the bible eludes to erotic dancing when Salome is mentioned to dance for King Herod (only later said to have removed the seven veils by Oscar Wilde, but let’s get real...she totally did). All that to say, even DJ Jubilee was likely behind the curb. Girls been twerking for centuries!

3. Prostitution ( just a tiny step away from erotic dancing) is considered the world’s oldest profession.

4. Stripping found America in 1896.

5. Burlesque became popular in 1925.

6. Strippers went topless in ‘go-go dancing’ in the 1960’s.

7. In 1969, full nudity dancing became popular.

8. Lap dancing began trending in 1980.

9. Everyone needs to stop focusing on Miley Cyrus and what she did, and wake up. This is nothing new. If you want to get angry about it, you need to find the root of the problem. And the root of the problem...is darkness.

10. Seriously, folks. (mostly, I just wanted ten points)


The club I was in last night, had centuries worth of education to know all the right moves. These ladies were the professionals of erotic dancing. I seriously sat there and wondered if they all went to the same strip school where they were taught by the world’s greatest seducer artist (I know, not a real occupation). These girls were incredibly tall, slender, had their curves where curves were supposed to be, long, silky hair, and...well...if they lost their job at the club, I think the Cirque dela would gladly take them.

And me bring five months pregnant, I sat there and thought I was pretty unattractive. I mean....goodness sakes!

I know you might be thinking that this isn’t exactly the point of strip club outreach, but I think it actually is part of the point. You see, up until now, I’ve been in clubs that are dives and the girls aren’t very attractive. These clubs are full of drugs and drunk girls, girls that are being pimped out and taken advantage of. But in this club, there was an air of pride. These girls knew what they were doing. It was almost like an art for them. They knew how to cast their eyes, how to tilt their chin, how to bend and move.

Sitting there, going deaf under the power of the speakers, I felt pretty insecure when a dancer pulled up a chair to our table and sat down to talk. She was 19...shouldn’t have even been allowed to drink. Thankfully, Bekah was able to carry a bit of a conversation with her, as the rest of us could not hear over the blasting music. She said she really enjoyed to work at the club, that it was easy, good money. When Bekah asked how she ended up there, she said her brother’s friend told her she should try it out.

These dancers may be different than the dives, but I can almost promise that somewhere, each of them has brokenness. After all, we all do. Maybe their fathers were not in the picture or did not show them enough attention, making sure their daughters knew they were beautiful, wanted and loved? Every girl wants to know she is pretty, that she has value, that she can be the center of a man’s attention. That’s how God somewhat made women, right? Even if these girls have no ‘hurt’ to speak of on the surface, there is one truth: Satan has been after the heart of women from the very beginning.

 “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

 ~ Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

“The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”
 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
~Genesis 2: 23-25 (NIV)

Woman was originally intended to please man, to ease his loneliness, to help him, to love him, and very importantly, to be loved and cherished in return. They were partners. There was respect. After all, until Adam received the gift of Eve, he was incomplete and not fully happy. I imagine The Lord thought out the design of woman, knowing what would please Adam; she would be soft to the touch, pleasing to the eye, and beautiful in all ways. Woman was special. Unique. Valued. Gifted. Irreplaceable. Needed.

And then darkness walked in...

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
~Genesis 3:6-7 (NIV)

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
~Genesis 3: 14-15 (NIV)

And that part: I will put enmity between you and the woman, is what stands out to me. Webster Dictionary defines enmity as mutual hatred or ill will. That’s powerful! God doesn’t say this about the serpent and Adam, does he?

When I was little, I thought this meant that women were predestined to be afraid of snakes forever, and that they would stomp their heads with the heels of their boots (I often picture my Great Grandma, Ida, in her knee high panty hose and black work shoes doing this...and it makes me laugh). But I don’t see this verse that way anymore. I believe that women have always been a target for Satan. And why not? She made Adam complete. She was God’s treasured gift to mankind. Why wouldn’t the enemy spend all of history, present, and future to warp and destroy what she was meant to be?

Miley Cyrus stood on a national stage and simulated sexual acts for a man. The audience on TV cheered. The other musical artists looked on with disgust (as if they’ve never done the same exact thing). We tweeted and posted our disdain and noted how we feel sorry for Miley. But we watched. We failed to see where the enemy was winning.

If you think what Miley Cryus did was shocking, you don’t know what I see on Wednesday nights. Every single night, all across the world, women are in bars and clubs, projected on movie screens, printed in the pages of magazines...all shedding their clothes to display what God meant to be truly beautiful. He never intended for them to be an object of lust, performing sex acts for anyone to see. “It’s easy money,” in the words of my new friend. “He said I should give it a try.” And I bet she feels a measure of beauty in it. I really do. There’s faux approval when the money pays the bills. She’s special. She’s coveted. She is prized. So says the men in the club. So says the enemy.

Want to change things?

1. Stop tuning into the VMAs if you don’t want to see something dirty. After all folks, it happens   every single year. You’re partly to blame.

2. Make every single little girl in your life feel that she is positively cherished, beautiful, and worthy of unconditional love. Give her value in her identity of who she is, not what she can do for anyone else.

3. Mothers, stop obsessing over your looks and weight. One day, you daughter who might grow up to be insecure in her own looks will have a brother’s friend tell her she’s pretty enough to dance with the A-lister dancers and she will give it a try, feeling gorgeous. I once had a friend feed me the same line and felt pretty because of it (thankfully, I did not listen to his career advice!). So show her daughter you see value in your appearance.

4. Fathers, set an example for your sons. They watch everything you do. Open the car door for the women in your wife. Speak to them with respect. Touch them gently with love. Do not let your eyes linger of women passing by, showing your son that women are here to please men’s eyes.

We may not be able to change history (yet) but we can start by changing with the little boys and girls in our lives. We can be better men and women for them. We can stop letting music, TV shows, and movies stream into our homes that make our gender roles less than what God intended. We can do better. We can be better. We can start raising outstanding young men and women.

Right?

So, I'll leave you with this rather bizarre old photo of Miley that now makes little sense. What happened? There's a war on for the heart's of women. That is what's happening.

Note: Also posted at Light in Darkness.

~Gia
2

Greater Is He


A while back when Roger started to grow tremendously in his ministry, we began to experience spiritual warfare and sucker punches at full force. There would be nights when I would suddenly wake up in the middle of the night and be overcome with fear. I could feel something. Not to much longer after, Lucy would start to cry. I would go into her room and she’d be terrified, awoken from a nightmare. This happened almost every night for a few months, always around the same time.

Wondering how this ties into outreach last night? Well, here you go...(and don’t think I’m crazy, please?).

Last night, I felt discouraged before I met up with my outreach team. I really just wanted to cry (and it was more than just being pregnant) and things slowly fell apart for me as the night went on. When I was sitting in the club, I made small talk with my outreach partner, making sure she was okay and answering questions she had. But inwardly, I was thinking that this entire ministry was going to be impossible. What if the team fizzled out? What if we couldn’t make it work when our leader was no longer there to guide us each week? I mean, these are brand new clubs that an outreach team has never entered. I started this ministry when veterans had already laid the groundwork and developed some relationships. I went in with the club owners and dancers already knowing we were the church ladies that brought gifts. And this is how I sat there, with my partner oblivious to what was going on in my head, simply worried.

About 30 minutes in, I sent the prayer team a text stating that I felt like I was failing at this to which a friend quickly sent back an encouraging response. Soon after, a huge group of men walked in. They sat close to where we were; one guy pulling his chair all the way up to the stage. It quickly became obvious that this guy was the trouble maker and all his buddies were there just to cheer him on and encourage him to get hands on with the dancers. All of a sudden, the dancer on stage became much more energetic. She got down right in the guy’s face, presenting...body parts to be touched and fondled.

My hands started trembling. This has never happened to me in a club before. I once saw a girl I had just talked to, a girl that was sobbing over her drink, go to dance for a man and allow oral sex to be preformed on her right on the stage. I spoke with the same girl afterwards, tears still streaming down her cheek. But even then, my hands didn’t tremble.

My hands are my spiritual barometer, of sorts. That same terror, dark fear, that wakes me and Lucy in the night, came into the club with those men. I remember mentioning to my partner that I didn’t think we should stay much longer. I think she replied at some point about Greater is He...if not, it kept circling my brain (1 John 4:4). I said we would try to stick it out ten more minutes and pray hard core for the girls. But soon after, some guys in the group kept turning around to stare at us and I knew it was time to leave.

Then, all of a sudden, ‘C’ (a dancer a team had met two weeks ago) was standing at out table. My hands were still trembling and I wished I for have a face-to-face with God right at the moment. I wanted to ask Him, “What exactly is going on here? I have felt like getting the chance to speak to a girl was going to be impossible. Now, when I know it is time to go, You send a girl to our table when my hands are trembling and my head’s a mess?!”

Of course, I didn’t the chance for that face-to-face with God.

When ‘C’ moved on, we packed up our things and left...but I ended up taking that darkness all the way home with me. My mind couldn’t make sense out of what had happened or why the group of men bothered me so much. I felt kinda crazy.

You can blame it on my over active imagination, or my curiosity over C.S. Lewis’ ‘Screwtape Letters’, but I have a huge belief in the idea that people can bring their ‘garbage’ or their ‘spiritual junk’ along with them. I guess that’s what I felt when those guys got settled in. They weren’t doing anything more shocking than I’ve seen in the past.

I was up for a long time, laying in bed and trying to fall asleep. I kept thinking about random verses, none of which were particularly uplifting. I thought of God encountering Satan in the book of Job and how Satan tells God that he has been patrolling the earth. I thought about the demons in ‘Screwtape Letters’ that thought it funny that mankind did not even know that the demons are with them, sitting beside them, keeping them in bondage. And then, at that familiar time of night, Lucy let out a terrible scream of, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” I think I almost peed, the sound scared me so much!

Roger and I jumped out of the bed, nearly running into each other, yanked open the door of the kids’ room, and found Lucy out of bed, shaking at the top of the stairway that goes to the top bunk. She was pointing at a dark corner of the room screeching, “Daddy! You have to get that snake! Get it out of here!”

There was no snake, but it took some convincing to get her to believe me. When she was calm, she climbed into bed, asked for us to turn some worship music on softly, and fell back to sleep. But me? I went back to bed still feeling defeated. Was being in ministry and trying to love people that are pretty hard to reach out to worth the sucker punches? Was it worth my daughter’s nightmares and the darkness that sometimes gets into my home? I mean, my gut reaction is to tell God, “Never mind!” It’s hard. And I think these attacks and other like it, have been regular for over a year.

I laid in bed for an hour. Then, I finally heard from God (to which I wanted to tell Him that I NEED sleep). He reaffirmed that I did feel the spiritual atmosphere change when those men walked in (so I’m not crazy). Who knew a strip club had spiritual atmosphere? But it’s everywhere. While my team was there, it changed. People don’t see it now, but we bring in light; we take the presence of The Lord in. And when those guys came in...goodness!...if we could only have looked at the scene with special glasses...see it the way God and His angel armies see it!

Yes, Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. We weren’t in danger, but I do believe those alarms both my partner and I felt were God’s way of saying it was time to go. But in that two-in-the-morning hour, God clearly told me, “Andrea...that may be how it felt to you, but you can’t feel what the darkness feels when you and the teams walk into those clubs.” I thought what I felt was troubling, but I suddenly understood: though we don’t see it yet, the battle being done and the victories already claimed in the name of The Lord, are ripping the enemies’ feet right out from under them. They do more than tremble in His presence. They eventually flee...and that’s a promise. If we keep going, if we stick it out, if we roll with the sucker punches and commit to do this thing even when there is so much on our calendar...the darkness will flee. God will win.

“And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.” Genesis 1:1

He could do this without us, really. But how awesome is it that He has called us to serve by His side? Don’t let sucker punches keep you from standing with a chin held high and your hand tucked into His. What’s happening that we can’t see with our earthly eyes, is well worth it.


~Gia



PS: At six years old, my sweet baby girl is leaning how to be a trooper in these wars she can’t see with her own eyes. If she doesn’t ask for worship music when she is terrified in the night, she gets my phone, opens the YouVersion app and plays the Psalms audio. So...even a little girl is mightier than the enemy. If that’s true for her, it’s true for me...because I’ll be 31 next week!




0

The Man With The 'Sweatheart' Tattoo (not a typo)



There seems to be a great deal of debate amongst Christians as to what loving others means. To me, it means understanding a tattoo. Crazy, right? But give me a second to explain:

Loving Others Fail:

I walk into a biker bar with the intent of telling the people inside about Jesus. I'm sporting a thick bible under one arm, a smile on my face, and my shirt buttoned up to my chin. As soon as the bar door closes behind me, everyone slowly turns and looks at me. Some of them jostle one another and point, laughing at the sight of me. Yet, right in front of me, tucked into the bar with a cold, long neck clenched in his fist, is the biggest dude I've ever seen. I walk up to him and stick my hand out to shake, "Hey there, I'm ______(insert name here), do you know about Jesus?"

The man shakes his head and turns back to his beer. This is when I spy a giant red tattoo on his bicep. It reads 'Sweatheart'...and I point to it. "Hey, do you know that isn't spelled right? It should be s-w-e-E-t for 'sweet'. That says 'sweat'. It isn't right."

Next thing I know, I'm laying on my back staring through twinkling stars at the bar ceiling. It'll take a week for the shiner to fade to a nice, pale green...


Loving Others Win:

I walk into the bar in my blue jeans and rock n roll t-shirt with nothing but a smile and God's word hidden in my heart. When the door shuts behind me, everyone gives me a disinterested glance. I walk up to the bar and sit down beside one of the biggest, most intimidating men I've ever seen. The bartender asks me what I'll have and I ask for coffee. The man beside me cuts his eyes to mine, suspicious. I give a shrug. "Never been able to handle my alcohol very well." He snorts with amusement and drains the last of his beer.

As I sit there drinking my coffee, I'm asking the Lord what I should say to engage this man in conversation. I'm in this place to show whomever has an eye to see, the love of my Savior in Christ Jesus. But as I sit, waiting, the man turns to me and asks, "Why the heck are you in here for anyways? You don't look like--" he cuts off, a smile tugging the corner of his lips. "Well, let's just say you don't look like this is your sort of place. Ya hear me?"

I laugh, nodding my head. "I'm in here because I was thirsty. Why are you in here?"

He shrugs. "...it's quiet."

At this, it is my turn to laugh. The small bar is blasting with honky tonk music. The shot glasses practically bounce with the bass beat. "You think this place is quiet? You're kidding right?"

He fiddles with his empty beer bottle. "It's pretty quiet."

I sit, searching my heart for the words of the Lord. Finally, "Got a lot on your plate, huh? I know what that's like?"

His eyes cut back to mine, a light in them now. I think his eyes are filled with hope that someone else might understand his pain. "You do?"

I nod. "Life can suck sometimes."

"Sure does."

"A couple years back, I lost my job and almost lost everything I have."

His eyes widen. He turns his body ever-so-slightly, as if to give me a bit more of his attention. "Hey, me too! Wife left me not too soon after."

"I'm sorry to hear about that. That's not cool, man."

"You married?" he asks.

"Yep. Nearly thirteen years."

"And she stuck with you?" He asks incredibly.

I nod, taking another swig of my coffee. "Yep. But it wasn't easy. But you know what....?" He raises his eyebrows in expectation. "I'm glad that the wife and I had to go through that dark time."

The man turns away, shaking his head. "Not me. I could have gone on without any of it ever happening. I'm a good guy, you know? You might not think it because...well, I'm a little rough looking...and I'm sitting in a bar, and whatnot. But I'm a good guy. I've never been able to understand why God lets bad things happen to decent people." He clears his throat and says a bit softer, "I do believe in God, ya know? I just don't think I like him much."

And my heart jolts within my chest. This is my door. I lean in and smile. "Good people are like gold...they go through fire and are made stronger, refined. God only refines the good ones because He loves them so much. He needs them to be stronger than the rest, to stand apart."

I don't say anything. I just let those words wash over him. I can see him blinking, staring down at the bar top, his eyebrows knit together as he considers what I've just said. After several long moments, he turns his eyes back to me. "Gold, huh?" He asks, and I nod. "You think a man like me has worth like gold? You don't even know me. You don't have a clue what you're talking about."

I point to the tattoo on his bicep. "Never mind that. Tell me the story about that ink right there."

He snarls down at the 'sweatheart' tattoo and snorts again as laughter bubbles up in his thick chest. "It's supposed to say 'sweetheart'," he chuckles, motioning at the bartender for a coffee. "Got that when I got into the service. I was on a forty-eight hour liberty, drunk out of my mind, and my buddies and I thought we should get our first tattoo. Dang parlor was a shady little place."

I laugh with him. "Service man, huh? What branch?"

"Army."

I nod. "Marines. Five years."

"Really?"

At this, the man with the sweatheart tattoo begins to open up and share his story with me. I learn all about the ups and downs of his life. His wounds started as a child, but don't they all? I share a bit about myself, the struggles I've conquered. In the process, I am able to bring Jesus into the conversation. He never bats an eye. By this time, he is so open, so honest, so willing to listen to the funny guy next to him, that he listens to me...and most importantly, he listens to me.

I don't leave that bar having led this man to Christ, but I started a friendship. We will meet again, outside the bar...and I will continue to plow the fields and labor in this relationship. I know that in time, his heart will be ready.



Sweatheart Tats and Bondage:

I love tattoos. I have them. I will probably have another before I die. But what I have learned is that tattoos and the sins that keep us in bondage are kind of like the same thing. People think that we can simply tell someone they need Jesus and they need to walk away from their sinful lives in order to have eternal life. But here's the thing...

If that's your viewpoint, you're cheating and trying to get out of the actual work of plowing the fields and waiting for the harvest. 

Our sins aren't simply laying on the surface for someone with a bible to kindly wipe away with a bit of spit and a hanky. Our sins might be visible on the outside, but they go far deeper than the skin. Our sins become like tattoos that scar the outside, but go deep, staining and forever changing us. To remove a tattoo, you need a series of painful treatments. Most people don't ever undergo these treatments because of the sheer amount of money it costs...

Your spit and hanky, your bible, your words coming out of your mouth with good intentions, will not turn someone away from their sins. It just won't happen. If anything, you will press them further into the lifestyle they are already a slave to.

It takes the true love of Jesus to wash away our sins. He is the only one that paid the price to not only wash away our sins, but to do the internal healing it takes to remove all traces of our bondage.

You want to effectively go out into the world and show the captives the love of Jesus? Then simply love on them FIRST. Show them friendship and compassion. Build up trust and relationship. Plow the fields. Work and toil for them. Then sit back and wait on Jesus to bring the harvest in. Don't cheat. Don't cut corners. Do the hard work. That's the only way you will ever see the captives set free.

~Gia

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Jesus Gave Me His Keys...And He Has The Best Keychains!



Last night on the way home from the clubs, I was worshiping and praying out loud when God suddenly spoke something very clear into my heart. It was so deeply profound to me that I bust out laughing and crying all at once. "You're amazing," I kept saying. "You're so incredibly amazing!"

"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me."
 ~Revelations 3:20 NIV 2011

I want you to try and picture this, as crazy as it is going to sound. Try to imagine my silly self driving down the highway, Jesus Culture worship blasting in my ears, my hands drumming out the beat on the steering wheel, and a smile stretching from ear-to-ear. Got that image in your head? Nah, dude. You've got that smile a little too 'normal'. Crazy it up a bit. ;P Okay. Good. That's better.

Now imagine, (and here is where it gets even crazier!!) Jesus suddenly appearing in the passenger seat and rocking out with me. We're both drumming now, Him on the dashboard and me on the steering wheel. You might think He's in a pristine white robe (honestly, I thought He would be too), but that's not the case. He has on jeans with holes in them, Converse and a rock and roll T-shirt. Just for clarification, let me assure you this did NOT really happen. If it did, I would have crashed the van and been rocking right up to heaven with Him (Highway To Heaven???). But imagine it anyway. It makes this story way more exciting...

So, I am driving; dangerously, drumming with hands and feet, and Jesus suddenly quiets me. It's just a gentle little breath...a shift in the atmosphere...and everything is still and peaceful. And in my heart, I hear Him whisper, "I desperately want in those clubs, Gia. I love the people in there, with a furious longing. I can stand at the door and knock forever, but no one inside knows I am there wanting in. There is no way for me to set them free, love on them, show them how incredibly precious they are to me. But every time you open the door and go in, you let me in. You are my key...my doorkeeper."


This is when I burst out laughing. But I wasn't laughing like Sarah when the angels said she would have a baby (Genesis 18:12). I was laughing because the theme of the entire night had been keys.


Two Hours Earlier:

I was sent to a club with a team of ladies I'd never worked with before. What made me even more nervous was that my mother-in-law (who I always stick with) was going to a different club than me. I hitched a ride with the prayer warrior that would be waiting in the parking lot the entire time I was in the club. I've not gotten to speak a great deal with this awesome lady, but on the drive over, she spoke some amazing words over me. However, she also made me a little nervous when she said, "I want you to know, you're leading this team tonight." When I get nervous, I have to pee. My prayer warrior friend was lucky I didn't leave a puddle in her passenger seat when she said that to me! When she pulled into the parking lot, she took my hand and prayed over me. When she was finished, I took a deep breath...and the adventure began.

I reached the door first, and when I opened it, I was thinking that we were taking in fresh, clean air. The 'clean' air didn't last long, because the dreaded fog of cigarette smoke quickly swallowed us up (ooof, I HATE the smoke!). The ladies and I sat at a little table at the opposite end of the stage, close to the bar where I tend to feel more protected. There was one dancer on the floor. She was stretched across the bar stools, letting a male patron massage her feet. She had singles tucked in her garter, which strangely enough, is the first time I'd seen a dancer sporting her tips.

The ladies and I sat for a while, and all I could think of was, "Lord, you said I was going to lead this group...but I'm nervous, and I don't recognize any of these people." I had been praying that the bartender who had been on my heart would be there, but she wasn't, and all the ladies I had met and forged relationships with on previous visits weren't working this night.

When the man rubbing the dancer's feet stood up and moved away, I hopped into his seat and stuck my hand out to shake. Probably too brightly, I said, "Hi! I'm Gia!" She blinked and barely reached out to shake my hand. She looked completely startled. I guess I don't blame her. Her eyes cut past me to the man that'd been with her moments ago. "How was your week," I asked.

"Just like every other week...taking care of my grandma."

I tipped my head, keeping my eyes on her her's. She kept looking to her drink, to the man on the other side of the room, to the tips in her garter, and sometimes, only a quick glance at me. "You take care of your grandma? That's so sweet of you."

"Yeah...she's my world." She holds my gaze a little longer this time and I smile.

"Do you have help?"

"I have some family that helps sometimes, but I'm really all she's got."

"Does she live with you, or do you live with her?"

"I live with her."

"You must have a beautiful heart to take care of her like that. Many people wouldn't."

No music had been playing and I got the impression that the gentleman was waiting for her. She cut her eyes away, picked up her things and said, "Listen, I've got work to do." She walked away before I could say anything else.

In the meantime, I sit at the bar, the other ladies on the team only an arm reach behind me, and I sit and hope that when her dance is over she will come back over and talk some more. I sip my water and watch whatever was playing on MTV on the flatscreen over the bar. God, please don't let me home and have to say that I sat at the bar all night in this nasty club and never got to show a single woman Your smile, or speak to them Your words.

Then, like a breath of air, I felt my spirit grow calm. Be patient...sit still. I have a plan.

Suddenly, a huge man approached me. "Can I borrow your lighter, Sweetheart?" he asked.


"Sure, go ahead. That's not mine. It was sitting there already." My skin prickled. Ooof...Lord, what are you doing?

He picked it up and lit his cigarette. I had noticed this man watching me since we walked in. He smiled once or twice, and I knew that he wasn't someone I wanted hanging around me for very long. "How are you? You having a good time tonight?" he asks.

I don't know if he is smiling at me, or what. I just know that he is uncomfortably close. I never looked up at him, just tipped my head and said, "I'm fabulous, thanks!" Since I didn't look up at him and say anything else, I think he got the idea, because he stood there a few more seconds and backed away. When he was gone, I realized I couldn't sit at the bar alone, even if my team was only two feet away. I stood up, and sat back down at the table with the ladies. And I just sat there, making small talk with the team. I was trying not to be discouraged. God said to be patient, so I held on to that. In the meantime, I told that ladies that I was learning drums. We talked about that for a second. Then one of them asked about the key I was wearing around my neck. My hands went to it and I smiled. "My husband made this for me. A long time ago, someone prayed over us and said that by our unique way of loving others would be like the love of Jesus (this ability were our keys). We would use keys He had given to us to unlock broken, hurting people from their bondage. When that happens, He can, and WILL, bring healing to the broken." I also told them that my husband releases his keys when he leads people in worship...

And that's when the bartender walked into the club. I had asked God, "Please let her be there. If she is there, I will know I'm in the right place." As she walked across the club, God whispered...keys.

"Excuse me," a make voice broke in, startling me from my thoughts.

I turned around to find a big man standing near our table. He seemed a bit shy. "Are you ladies good? Can I get you more water?"

"Oh, thank you, but we're good." My teammate answers. "Do you work here?"

He shakes his head. And then, all of a sudden, he kneels down by our table. "I've been feeling convicted the whole time you ladies have been here. You see, I've got trouble with the wife at home, so I thought I needed to get outta there....and I left and walked over here. But I'm not here for the--" he motions towards the stage.

The ladies on my team (they are older than me) begin to talk to him. Without any prompting, he begins to spill out his brokenness. It was such an anointed time, so powerful, that the conversation seems like a blur now. I remember thinking, Lord, do you know this is a man? Don't you know I'm in here for ladies?

But there was that breath again. Peace.

It turns out that this man was an artist who specialized in faces. "Really?" I gasped. "Me too! That's so crazy! It's hard to find other artists that can draw people's faces." I dug out my phone and said, "Let me show you this. I've been thinking about it all day...and I want to share it with you. I think you might appreciate the story behind it..."



"This is a charcoal reproduction I did of another girl's painting. You see," I say, "she was just a little girl when this man started visiting her in her dreams."

He is beaming. "That's Jesus!"

"Exactly. And what's amazing is that she didn't know a thing about Jesus. Her family were agnostic...but she painted this man and started to tell her family about her dreams." He took my phone and stared at the picture for a long time. "I read this book called Heaven If For Real and in it, the little boy goes to heaven during surgery. When he told his family about Jesus, they searched for all kinds of pictures of Jesus to see which one was closest to the real Jesus. Nothing ever matched...but when this image clicked up on the screen, the boy said, 'That's Him! That's Jesus!'"



"Do you paint?" I ask.

"Yes."

"I can't paint. It makes me so mad that I can't when I desperately want to be able to. But the first painting I really did...well, let me show it to you," I say, clicking through the photos on my phone.



"Here she is."

"Wow!" He takes the phone from me. "She's beautiful. I love the colors!"

"Pretty neat, huh? But it was all God. I had no idea what I was doing, but as I painted this woman, He told me what she represented. You see, at the time, I was in the middle of a storm. My husband lost his job. We were losing the house. I was terrified. So the sadness and fear causes this woman to cast her eyes down. But at the same time, she looks peaceful, doesn't she?" He nods. I point to the colors. "The beautiful colors are His peace...it's all Him. In the middle of our brokenness, He is faithful to calm our fears and hearts even though the oceans rage. Kinda like you, right? You're in the middle of a storm...brokenness?"

He nods. "I am. Yeah...I am." He looks back at the painting.

"But the amazing this about this...is the woman's beauty. He will bring us out of our storms, and If we rest in Him when the earth shakes...we will come out of it more beautiful than when we went it."

"Because it's our brokenness, right? He makes us beautiful from our brokenness?"

I smile at him. "That's right. And you know what? He made something beautiful out of what my husband went through."

He talks a lot more...about his art...about the Lord...about his family. The ladies and I speak good things over him. When he speaks about his son, his eyes shinning, we tell him he is a good father. Carefully, we sow truths that the Lord is whispering to us about this man:

You are a good man...a wonderful father.
I can see that your heart is good. 
You have a plan and purpose for your life.
Something good...prosperous...
A plan that won't harm you. 

And by the time it starts to get late and we know we have to be going, this man asks us if we will pray for him, right there in the middle of the strip club--a woman barely clothed in anything but a thong dancing onstage. There are people within ear shot, but we take his hands and begin to pray one at a time. The words that come out of our mouths were powerful, good...uplifting and encouraging. And when we said 'amen' he tugged our hands and began to pray over us. "Thank you, Father," he said with deep emotion, "for sending these women in here and the conviction You placed in my heart." He simply thanked the Lord that we were there...

And when he was finished, my teammate smiled at him and said, "You're too good a man to be here. Go home to your wife. Start over." He had tears in his eyes as he gathered up his things.

The ladies put on their coats and picked up their purses, but I still hadn't forgotten about the bartender. "Just a second," I said, turning and walking to the bar. The bartender smiled at me and walked over...

"You ladies leaving?"

"Yeah...but...I have something for you." My heart started thundering. "Listen, this might sound weird, but since the first night I met you, I've admired you. You have an amazing heart."

I don't think she was expecting those words to come from my mouth, because her entire countenance fell. Her chin trembled and tears flooded her eyes. She snatched me up in a hug. When she pulled away, I took the key necklace off. "My husband made this for me. A long time ago, God told us we had keys...and we used them in the way we loved others, people hard to love, and that the way we loved them would cause them to see Jesus. And these keys, when we use them, they release these people of their burdens...their chains...bondage. When that happens, He can set them free and heal them completely."

I thought this part was going to scare her, but she kept nodding, more and more tears gathering in her eyes.

I pressed the key into her hand and said quietly, "The Lord told me you have these keys too...and as strange as it might sound, you're in the right place. You have keys for these ladies. So I want you to keep this and always remember how very important you are to The Lord."

Again, she squeezed me in a hug. By now, tears were in my eyes too.

"You have no idea," she was saying....

Turns out, God had already been speaking to her about keys through ways I feel are too personal to share with readers. But trust me, God spoke the words she needed most right in that moment. He reminded her of her amazing worth, and her ability to allow Him to use her for mighty good.

"I know it can't be easy for you to work her," I said. "But I see that your heart loves these girls and you want to try to help them and keep them safe."

"I do."

"And I think you're amazing for that," I smiled.

"I was just telling my children about you the other day," she laughs. "I was telling them about the story you told me when I first met you; about what happened when the lady broke into you house."

I laughed. "Oh really? Did they think I was crazy?"

"No, they asked what you did, and I told them...well, she made the woman coffee, held her hand, and took care of her. And they said, 'Mom! That sounds like you!'"

I could have fallen over, so overwhelmed by God's perfect plan. But instead, I swallowed a huge lump of tears and said, "Sounds like are hearts look alike."

As I was walking out of the club, I bumped fist with the giant bouncer The Lord has given me a heart for. He laughed and shook his head when I tried to walk with 'swag'. I think I amuse him. The bartender says his heart is like ours too...and I believe her. There's just some people that you meet and you can see their goodness shining despite what the world has tried to do to snuff it out.

I don't know how the bartender and bouncer ended up working in one of the worst clubs I've ever been in, but I know that God is in this...and one day, will be in them...

There's no doubt in my mind.


Now back to the scene where I'm driving home:

So, there I was, smelling like smoke, tears in my eyes, with Jesus in the passenger seat. "Doorkeeper, huh?" I say out loud...still giggling. "You do know, that you could just waltz right in, don't you? You don't need me. You can do anything."

And guess what? Jesus giggled too (totally did too, dude!). And He said, "Yeah...but you're the one that's got my keys. I gave them to you, remember?"

So Jesus doesn't have to stand and knock. I'll dig out His keys, unlock the doors, and together, we'll just walk right in.

~Gia
1

Jesus Broke The Rules



Sometimes, I miss the depth and breadth of the passion and love of Christ for all humanity. His love is obvious when He hangs on the cross, spilling His blood so that we might have freedom and eternal life with God the Father. His love is evident when He heals the lepers and brings the dead to life. He is pretty much amazing. This I know, for certain. But today...He gave me a peek into the love that is hidden from scripture and can only be seen when I pause, wait, and look a little deeper. When that happens, my mind is blown.

His love...wow!...is so incredible!

You see, I love the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. In this story, Jesus pretty much defies tradition and rules when He begins to talk to her. She's a sinful woman; so wretched that she cannot even come to the well and draw water with the other women of the city. She is filled with shame, ducking out when the streets are clear, only to be met by a tired and weary Messiah. Most of us know the story, but what I didn't know was this:

In John 4:4, it says that Jesus was on His way home from Jerusalem. He had been traveling far and was exhausted. Ahead of Him, right in His way, was the city of Samaria. Most Jews would have gone out of their way to travel around the city, for the Jews hated their fellow Jews living in Samaria. The reason goes way back, long before Jesus stood on the road, staring ahead, and making up His mind to journey right through the city.

Generations before, after the death of Solomon, some Jews (those in Samaria) continued to serve The Lord but also followed the way of idolatry introduced by Jeroboam. They refused to travel to Jerusalem to worship at the Lord's temple. Instead, they lived by their own rules. Later, the Jews of Samaria intermingled and married outside of their religion. They became 'impure' to the Jews that had held steady to the teachings of The God of Israel. Because of this, the Jews outside Samaria were bitter towards those inside and hated them, steering clear of them and their city at all costs. But not Jesus. He decided that the shortest way home was through Samaria, so He wasn't going around. He was going to walk right in and be, as it turns out, a light to the lone woman He met along the way.

Jesus was not prejeduice. It didn't matter that the Jews of Samaria had messed up and disobeyed. They were His love just the same as those on the outside that honored each law and commandment. He loved them just as much as He loved those that brought honor to His Father's name by upholding tradition and serving Him and only Him.  Jesus doesn't have limits. He doesn't have walls. He came to set us all free. Every single one of us.

When the sinful woman came to the well to draw water, He already knew what everyone else thought of her. It didn't matter to Him that a man had no business talking to such a woman, let alone asking her for a drink of water. Jesus ministered to whomever would listen; whomever had a heart to hear. When this woman realized she was speaking to the Messiah, she spread the word and a city that the Jews on the outside avoided, believed in Jesus (lots of them, anyway).

So what would Jesus do today? Would He tell me to avoid the strip clubs and bars filled with violence, prostitution and drug abuse? Or would He walk into the cities of the lost, sit down and ask for a drink of water? And should a broken woman look into His eyes and see something she had been searching all her life for, would He not share it with her? Would He tell you not to give money to the beggar on the highway exit? Would He have you avoid the poor and destitute and only serve and minister to those filling the church pews? Or would He tell you to take church also out to those ragamuffins that may never make it in?

But I'm going to walk with, and LIKE, Jesus. Should He send me (as He has already) into the wretched places, I am going to go like a light straight into the darkness. Because the captives, the ones that are desperate for freedom and love, are in there.

Jesus broke the rules for me. He paved the way. I'm going to follow in His footsteps. I hope you do to.

~Gia

0

Live To Enjoy The Light


 Sometimes, it doesn't seem like the best decision to go in strip clubs bearing gifts for the dancers and their children. After all, these local clubs are not the nicest places. But whenever I go in there, I feel as if my team and I are ushering in a breath of fresh air...and light. When I enter, I wear a huge smile and meet the eyes of everyone that I can. I know the patrons are puzzled, but the bartenders and dancers usually know exactly who we are.

Our latest outreach night was amazing. I came home blasting worship music in the car and drumming the steering wheel, singing at the top of my lungs. I had tears streaming down my cheeks, but they were tears caused by the presence of the Lord. His presence brings love. That is important to note. Because when these ladies and I enter the clubs, we've been saturated in prayer and enter with His presence with us--bringing Him and His love with each breath we take. He is like our perfume. Isn't that awesome to think about? It makes me giggle.

The first club we went in, I've only been to once before. Previously, we weren't there more than fifteen minutes before we were asked to leave by a burly bouncer who wouldn't make eye contact with us. On this night, we must have gotten there before he did, because we were able to stay and pray and be a friend for as long as we wanted. I sat right down at the bar and started talking to the bartender. We brought her a big bag of baby presents (she is due to give birth in April). I mainly asked her about her other child and how this pregnancy was treating her. Eventually, I ran out of things to talk about and suddenly asked her, "What did you want to be when you grew up?" A sad look passed in her eyes and she frowned at me. After a while, she shrugged and said, "Nothing. I didn't think of being anything when I was little." I asked about later in life, what did she want to be? She still said nothing.

"Oh, there had to be something," I said. "Like...at one point, I wanted to grow up and be Maverick from Top Gun." She laughed but still shook her head. "Think about it. Wasn't there anything? I mean, I knew this girl once who wanted to be a semi truck when she grew up."

She adamantly held her ground and said there was nothing she wanted to be. She looked sad, explaining that she had all kinds of siblings...and she spent most of her childhood being prince charming. I don't know what she meant by that, but it tugged at my heart.

As we were talking, I noticed a young man on the other side of the bar. He was younger than me, and kept glancing over at our group, listening to us. I didn't think anything of it until a dancer brought him and another man over to our group. She knew my mother-in-law and was asking for prayer for a health problem she was dealing with. As they were praying, the young man turned to the older woman in the group and began explaining how he needed God to help him turn his life around. He spilled all his dirty laundry at her feet, barely bringing his eyes to meet her's, and when he was done, the entire group put their hand on his shoulders, lifted their other hands to the Lord, and prayed over him, his friend he came with, and the dancer his friend lived with...

It was pretty amazing. On the other side of the club, obvious prostitution was taking place, a dancer in her late sixties was on the stage dancing, and yet here we were, lifting up the name of our Heavenly Father, praying for a young man that knew he didn't need to be there. They both left before we did, tears in the young man's eyes.

NOTE: I do not go in clubs to minister to the male patrons. It was a coincidence that the dancer brought her boyfriend and friend to meet my mother-in-law (who is in her fifties). I didn't engage in conversation with these men, but left it to the much older women.  It simply isn't appropriate for me, but I did join them in prayer.

The next club we visited, we entered alongside police. The club was dead, apparently having been cleared of the patrons due to a fight that broke out between two of the dancers. The wounded dancer was sitting in the bathroom floor in a little puddle of her own blood. She took a blow to her head from the heel of her own stiletto. She was in tears, crying, trying to clean herself up. Other dancers were trying to get clothes to her, but were so frazzled and shaking that I took her clothes, purse and keys, and helped her get her ID out for the police and EMTs.

It turns out that one of the officers on the scene knew all about the church ladies and personally knew my mother-in-law, which was nice. We sat at a table near the bar and just prayed silently, being available to help in whatever way we could. This is the club where I got my first kiss on the cheek from a drunk (or stoned) dancer and asked them to play one of my favorite songs: Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. The dancer couldn't find my mother-in-law's request of "His Eyes Are On The Sparrow" by Whitney Houston. "You want me to play some gospel up in here?!?!" The dancer laughed. But you should have seen the faces of the ladies on my team when my request blasted to life. I smiled ear-to-ear. "What? I love this song! This is a song I can pick up my sword and shield and go into battle with." They just giggled, but nodded their heads, knowing exactly what I was talking about. Sort of.

For the most part, we were at the second club to bring a peaceful enviroment with us. We sat and prayed as the police did their thing. We sipped our bottled waters, avoided looking at the stage (the nice thing about the police presence is that hardly anyone danced), and made small talk with one another. It might have seemed like a waste of time, but I know it wasn't. We were in the right spot, at the right time, giving the rattled dancers a squeeze of the hand and asking if they were okay. That was enough. Because next time, they might feel they can trust us with more. These girls, they deserved to be something amazing when they grow up. Shine some light in the darkness, and there is the possibility that they will see His face...and know they are beautiful, even in those clubs, in His sight.


"He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light." 
~Job 33:28




~Gia
1

Stop Being Boring!

I fell asleep for half an hour before a wave of explosive, hacking coughs woke me up and nearly shattered my bones. It's been an hour and I haven't coughed, but my brain is turned on...and I am almost certain that MucinexDM could be a narcotic.

The thing about me and germs is that I don't handle them well. One teeny tiny little monster germ shoots out of my kids' noses and somehow gets up my own and mutates into something alien, devouring all my healthy Gia smarts. So over this past weekend, I've tried to stock up on "smart" while curling under blankets in the recliner and watching the History Channel, sipping tea with honey and creating a mini Mount Olympus out of used Kleenex.

History Channel overload + MucinexDM + the nap I had this afternoon + Imagine Dragon's "Radioactive" song on repeat in my brain = me thinking about Christianity at one in the morning.

I. Am. So. Weird.

But it is History Channel's fault. And Imagine Dragon's. And most definitely Mucinex's.

Putting blame aside, check out this trailer for History Channel's The Bible. Seriously, man! This looks hard core, amazing! I'm talking bossome right here.



Blood covered, sweaty, tough men with bruises and weapons in their hands. I mean, come on! That. Is. Amazing. Just watching the trailer gets my heart pumping. It's gonna be the type of thing that I watch and then want to go climb a mountain afterwards. My heart is going to be starved for adventure of my own. And this is when I stop and think, "Dude, what happened to us? When did living for and seeking God stop being an adventure? When did it get all churchy?"

In my sickly state, crouching under the covers on the couch, that little Norman Rockwell type painting of a little boy with hair slicked down the middle comes to mind. You know...the boy with his shirt tucked in his pants but a button undone. He has spit-shined his shoes but they are untied. That kind of boy. Suddenly, I picture his Granny yanking his sling shot out of his hand and telling him to sit still and be quiet in the church pew. She probably even hocked a loogie into the palm of her hand and rubbed it in the boys hair to get that stubborn Alfalfa cow-lick to stand down. Yuck, right? **Listen, I got mucus on the brain. Give me a break**

All that little boy wants is a little adventure. He can't even say Deuteronomy or Habakkuk without biting his tongue once or twice.

Then cut to a scene of Puritans with blood in their eyes, having a panic attack in a brown paper bag every time someone whispers about a 'witch' and the 'devil'...frightening, and burning, those that are different into submission...

Then fade to black before soft music and .............

Dude, what happened?

Them witches and granny's spit sucked the adventure right out of Jesus!

I think Jesus wants to bring the fun back to chasing after Him. I believe He wants us to be an exciting, passionate, creative people that capture the attention of the world. He doesn't want us warming pews at all times. He wants us to get up and get out. He wants us to change the world. And how are we supposed to do that when we are so mind-numbingly boring? Come on, guys!!! Get your fire back!


~Gia


0

Mrs. Crabface and Rainbows


 I am not particularly fond of the puppy when it begins barking at four in the morning to let me know he has to pee and poop. I'm pretty sure the first coherent thoughts that circle through my brain are rather sinful. But I do get up, and I think that's the important part of the story.

Hugo (the puppy) is a little fluffy sweater pup. He can barely wag his tail and remain standing on all fours. At four in the morning, this adorable sight is enough to cause me to murder. I snatch him up, place him on his pad and say, "Go poop." He just blinks at me, lays down on the pad and sighs. "Poop!" I demand. He blinks again.

So I sit down in front of the space heater and wait. This is when rather strange things come to mind. I suddenly remember my mother looking at me and saying, "You know, it's really a miracle you didn't end up brain damaged!"

....Thanks mom.

You see, I was a preemie, and apparently in so much distress that I was born black (more like a deep, DEEP purple). My mom had been telling this story when it appeared she suddenly realized I should have been brain damaged from this. "But I wonder," I say to Hugo who is still laying on the pad, "if she really is surprised."

I am now wondering if my mom was crossing her fingers, ever vigilant to mark off my milestones as I grew, paranoid that if I didn't accomplish them, the proof of brain damage would be evident. So the first time I rolled over, I imagine her jumping up and down, pumping a fist in the air. The first time I peed in the toilet, she would have been doing a touchdown dance like running back Ahman Green in 2004. When I figured out how to count to 100 (with the help of my Uncle Matt) and understood my left from my right (thanks to Aunt Angie) my mom was down on her knees thanking the Lord that all of my brain seemed to be functioning just fine.

So far.

In second grade, I think my poor mama had her first panic attack. My teacher, who my mom dubbed Mrs. Crabface, told my mom I probably wouldn't succeed very far (who says something like that?). Hence, the reason my mom didn't like her. But here's the deal: IT WASN'T MY FAULT!! "It was the rainbows," I tell Hugo, who still lays on the pee pad. He blinks and lets out a harrumph. 

Remember when the teacher used to pass out the blank writing paper and tell you to number it 1-10 for you spelling test? Then she would call out the first word and use it in a sentence and you would write the word? Yeah? Well, I had managed to write my name and number my paper before I sat quietly, patiently waiting for Mrs. Crabface to say the first word. As I waited, I noticed the rainbows hanging from the ceiling. The next thing I know, the kids are passing their finished tests forward. I panicked. What in the world just happened?! She never said a word!!! But the other kid's tests were completed. SERIOUSLY!!! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?!


So I swallowed back my panic and passed my test in with the others. At recess she called me in and asked why I didn't fill in my test. I just stared at her. How was I supposed to explain that the entire universe transported me out of the classroom during the test; that all of time halted for me while it went on for others; that I had NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENED except that I was admiring the rainbows?

So I shrugged my shoulders and mumbled something akin to, "I don't know, please don't paddle me (because there WAS a paddle)." I guess that's about the time she had a meeting with my mom.

Poor mom.

"But look at me now, Hugo. I'm thirty years-old and...rocking it."

Hugo poops, turns around and immedetly tries to eat it. "No! We don't EAT poop!" I pick him up, get toilet paper and dispose of his poop. "Who is the brain damaged one here??"

The thirty year-old woman talking to her dog at four in the morning, picking up his poop, and thinking about those dang rainbows, you might ask?

XP (that's my sticking my tongue out at you).

Pffft. I'm artistic. I like rainbows hanging from ceilings. So what?

Sigh.

Sorry mom.



PS: No, I didn't not actually sit and talk with Hugo about all of this. Only some of it. Most of this went through my mind after I crawled back to bed and couldn't go to sleep. Also, yes. I did in fact google to find a good football player reference for touchdown dance. I have no idea, whatsoever, what he did in 2004. I bet he has some brain damage though.

PSS: Yes, I do tell this story often. It still makes me mad...and puzzles the heck out of me. WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED?!?!?!

~Gia
0

Blessed Are Those Who...Barely Keep It Together



I have this bizarre theory about why Eve may have been so easily swayed by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. I mean, she had EVERYTHING! She had the perfect partner, all of her needs met, was basically queen of absolutely everything, AND she got to literally walk with God. She SAW her creator. There is no reason she should not have trusted and believed every single word He said. Right? But instead, she threw that all away and listened to a serpent.

But I think that Eve needed to be lost and then rescued. That's what I believe. Because as crazy as it might sound, I think we as humans and children of the Lord need to be rescued by Him. Growing up, it is easy (for those of us/you blessed with fathers that loved us) to believe our daddy will scoop us up when we were in danger, bandage up a scrapped knee when we fell down, or discipline us when we blatantly disobeyed, but lovingly restore us by holding us and wiping away the tears. He might whisper, "It's okay, baby girl. I love you. I forgive you. I'm still here." And something about the affectionate physical hold and those words...bonded us to our daddies all the more.

Here is the thing, in scripture, anyone worth their salt suffered--they didn't have an easy path. Some of them fell into sin, like King David, and others had misery inflected on them by Satan (like Job). Women that did great things for the Lord didn't have it easy, either. They had to walk in faith and courage and simply trust that God had their back--like Esther as she stood up to Haman, or Rahab as she tossed her scarlet cord out the window and waited to be rescued.

So I am a believer in suffering, in falling far from what you were meant to be simply to be rescued and restored, and/or facing a scary road and mustering for all the faith and courage you have even when there is no certainty that God is behind you. I believe that even the most fallen woman will see all the more just how amazing her Heavenly Father is and HOW GREAT HIS LOVE FOR HER is when she finally allows Him to rescue her.

When Eve's eyes were open to the good and the bad, it hurt. She was cast out of her home and had to face the payment of her disbelief. She worked hard just to stay alive. Seems pretty bad, right? But yet, God didn't reject her. He still loved her. He was there--just not literally walking beside her as He had before. Instead, faith was born. She had to believe that He WAS still there. When Eve's eyes were open, she saw the true heart of a father that will never turn His back on you even when you fail Him. Eve...grew up.

When storms come your way, hold on tight and smile at the ominous clouds about to swallow you up. Because each storm makes a more beautiful son or daughter in the end. You may not always feel God's presence, or even be certain His eyes are upon you at all, but He has promised never to forsake you. He IS there. And not only is He there, but He knows and trusts that the storm (or your mess up) is going to make you shine all the more.

Easier said that done. I know...

But a true story, none-the-less.

Trust that you are worthy of the magnitiude of the storm before you...and that you are strong and capable of hanging on...and being a superhero when the storm is at your back. ;P If you're barely holding it together, believe that you are about to become something strong.

"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." 
~Deuteronomy 31:8



~One Storm-Battered Gia


1

Holding the Wounded



Last night, I came home, saw my husband waiting at the door and all I wanted was for him to wrap me up in his arms. I realized how incredibly blessed I am to have him, loving and taking care of me. I am blessed that my children were warm and safe in their beds...

Truthfully, I figured that my mother-in-law was exaggerating about the illegal acts going on inside the strip bars. Last time I went, I came home with a smile because I was able to share Jesus and didn't see anything but topless ladies walking back and forth from the dressing room. In my mind, I could handle seeing that and maintain my composure and witness. It never occured to me that much worse was happening behind me on the stage...

People outside the ministry have told me that the ladies are going to be put off by Christian women walking in to be a friend to them. I haven't seen this at all. Last night, I walked into the club and found a single dancer at the bar with her drink, tears in her eyes. A half hour later, I turned around and found another dancer (fully clothed and off duty because she was a day dancer) with two drinks, a cigarette and tears pouring down her cheeks. These are not prideful women that enjoy what they do. If you think that, you've not visited any of the clubs I've been in. These aren't glamorous locations with flashy lights and rich business men. These are places where they girls' nails are chipped, they've had a baby or two (or nine) and not a single person acknowledges state laws and regulations.

Indiana has some strict laws and regulations regarding the adult entertainment industry. It is illegal for women to not wear pasties or bandaids. If the girls are wearing a g-string, they must wear a mesh stocking (or something or another) over it. There is never to be any touching whatsoever, let alone blantant sex acts being preformed on stage or in a private room. In the three clubs I've gone in, there were no pasties or mesh stockings....and I will refrain from explaining how the no-touching rule was way more than disregarded.

The hardest part was when I was talking to a lone dancer when we first walked in. She was at the bar drinking, wrapped up in a winter coat. She was awkward. She didn't look like what you envision a dancer looking like. She looked...run down. Or beaten down. She kept ducking her head during our conversation, as if she were ashamed. She didn't meet my eyes until I started telling her funny stories and making her giggle. I acted like she was fully dressed like me and that we were old friends. I told her and the awesome bartender the story about the lady busting into my house. They burst out laughing when I said I made her coffee and held her hand...

But suddenly, her smile was gone and she ducked her head again. Her eyes were sad when she said, "Sorry...I...I have to go...make money." A man had walked in and taken a seat right up at the stage. She took off her coat, picked her song...and stepped up to the pole. I looked away. But the next time I glanced up the man was performing a sex act on her. My heart plummeted. I turned around in my seat and looked at Deborah and the bartender (the bartender can't see anything from her location). Other men started coming in to the club and sitting at tables...and this was happening right in the middle of the club...right on the stage. No one cared. It was normal. There was no shame.

It took me about fifteen minutes to snap out of the funk I was in after seeing this. I was speechless and blinking a lot to try to keep my tears at bay. I had just talked with her. I knew she couldn't be enjoying what was happening to her. Truthfully, I wanted to go rescue her. Instead, I ordered a bottle of water and sat at the bar taking the cap on and off and pretending to sip from it. It was awful. I kept crossing and uncrossing my legs...all antsy. Thankfully, the drunk dancer beside me took my mind off everything. I had the opportunity to hold her hand while she cried and spontaneously started laughing and telling me jokes. She was drunk because her husband was so mean to her, she explained. At one point, she blinked and said, "Do you work here? You're beautiful!" I tried not to be offended because, so far, all the dancers just looked worn out and a mess. But I smiled and said, "No, I don't, but thank you." She glanced over me and giggled, "Ah, yes! You have your clothes on, don't you?" Later she would look at me with dazzled eyes and say, "I love your hair! How do you get it to stand up like that?" I winked at her and said, "Believe it or not, it just grows straight out my head like this." She burst into happy giggles and I laughed with her. Five minutes later, she was in our arms sobbing as we prayed with her right there at the bar.

The thing is, these women don't belong to anyone. They were abused as children and got hooked up with the wrong man. They all have the same story. In one club, there is a grandma that has danced all her life and still dances. At one point, she stripped with two of her daughters. In another club, a mother sits at table and orders one drink after the other and watches her daughter take off her clothes on the stage. When asked why, she says, "I have to make sure no one hurts her." She cries into her empty beer glasses...her eyes always on her daughter.

When I put on my coat and gathered my things to leave, the bartender followed me to the door and held my in her arms. "It was so nice to meet you," she said close to my ear. "These girls need women like you. It means so much to them that you ladies come here."

At home, I let a few tears escape. I shared with Roger who I thought was going to cry. It's very, very hard for him to let me go, but he does because he knows I'm built for work like this. You see, most of these girls still have the dreams they had as children. They want to be a nurse, or a mommy... but not me. I wanted to grow up and me Maverick from Top Gun. ;P I wanted to be a fearless fighter...a hero.

We live in a country that proudly flaunts our freedom. We are foolish. I was foolish. These women don't want to be there, but because of the cycle of abuse and the way they were made to feel worthless as little girls, they are trapped in bondage and slaves to sex, drugs and more abuse. It isn't as simple as deciding not to strip anymore or be pimped out. The key is proving to them that they are worth something...that they are beautiful and invaluable. The key is walking in to the most wretched of places and holding their hand before and after they dance and are molested. The key is knowing what is really happening and becoming impassioned to pray and support in however God directs you. But it takes more than just saying 'no'.

"Please pray that a good man comes in here and helps me get out of this place," a dancer said as I was leaving. I nodded and said I would be praying. What I wanted to say was, "I'll do whatever I can to get you out of here. Just give me the time."

Please pray for me and the ministry. Pray for these girls. Some of the clubs have been shut down, and as a result, we are not welcome at a few particular clubs. Last night we were asked to leave at one, but not before I was able to give a free photo session away to a stripper who has a grandchild with a life-threatening disease. It blessed and surprised her. When we left, I walked straight up to the giant dude who said we weren't welcome to stay. I held out my hand to shake his and smiled, looked right in his eyes, "I'm Gia...and I really appreciate you letting us come in for a moment and love on these ladies." I could see the shame wash over him. He cut his eyes away and said softly, "Aw...it's okay."

So, I would be so blessed by your prayers. Share the stories if you feel that it might help. But mostly, pray for us and all the ministries like this one operating all across the nation. There are people that are not free. Don't be fooled in thinking that they are.

~Gia
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What To Do During Home Invasion? Hold Their Hand.


People that are from Sheridan, and currently living in Sheridan, often complain about what a terrible town it is. I've never had this problem. I like my small tractor town. I've never really had any problems here. I really like living in a tiny town with country celebrations and weird people. After all, I might be the weirdest person living here. But once in a while, strange things do happen. And apparently, the strange things like to happen to the Cooper family.

Most people have heard the story about me finding a naked little boy in my yard and having to sit with him and wait for the police to arrive. The was strange, right? But last night, it got stranger.

The kids, Roger and I got home late last night. In the rush to get jammies on, bedtime bathroom routines conquered and prayers said, Roger decided to step out and run to the gas station for a diet coke. As soon as he was gone from the house, the back door burst open and someone ran into the kitchen where I was standing. I turned around, found a woman about my size staring and out of breath like she had been running for her life.

Now...there are several things that went through my brain. I think the first was, "Who in the world is this woman? I should know who she is because she's in my house." I blinked about a hundred times trying to figure out what was going on. "But I don't know who she is." And that's when I realized, HOLY COW! I DON'T KNOW WHO THIS WOMAN IS! And that meant she was an intruder. Or something. Right?

Then my brain was flooded with a whole other set of thoughts. "Does she look like she wants to kill me? No. Not really. Did she have a weapon? No. She's in running shoes, a hoodie and track pants. No pockets. Her hands are empty but red with cold. She smells like cigarette smoke and booze. Check. Where is my gun, just in case? Crap. It's on the other side of the house. Can I take her? Totally. I'm not bigger, but I'm fierce. Where are my kids? Dangit. Standing right behind her."

The strangest, most threatening thing (in a long time) is happening in my home, and I am suddenly overly calm. I finally smile at the woman and say, "Hi. How are you?" She doesn't really say anything and Lucy is standing behind her, very confused and a little afraid (how do kids simply KNOW when something is wrong?). "Lucy," I say, smiling at her, "please go get in bed and make sure Teddy gets in bed. You can put a movie on, but please close both your doors."Lucy doesn't argue one bit. This is how I know she understands that something serious is happening. She steps around the woman and goes straight to her bedroom, shutting the doors behind her and doesn't come out again until (later on) the police are in the house. A while back, Roger sat the kids down and explained to them that if he ever tells them to run hide, that they don't argue--they do it and they don't come out again until daddy gets them. (In hindsight, I should have told her to hide)

As this is happening, the woman walks out of the kitchen and across the house to the living room where she sits on the couch.

I have to just pause because...I really have no idea how to explain what was going on in my brain. I tried to text Roger, but my phone was dead. So, I sighed and followed her into the living room, turning on the light because it was dark. I felt bad that the house wasn't ready for guests, which was a ridiculous thought, I know. I sat down on the couch beside her. I started just asking her questions, in the kindest voice I think I possess. I took her hand in both mine and she answered every question she was asked. What was her name? Where did she live? Was she in trouble or someone trying to hurt her (the last she answered yes to). I asked who she lived with, what she did for a living, where she was before she came to visit me. (LOL)At one point she nearly put her head in my lap as she sobbed. Then, when she stopped crying, I asked her if I could get her something to drink or make her some coffee. I asked about the coffee because she had obviously been drinking. So, into the kitchen we went.

I made my new friend coffee while she played with the puppy. She made some comments that led me to believe she might have come and gone from the house while I was gone during the day, telling me how great Hugo had been earlier in the day. Strange. But she may have simply been so drunk she had no idea what she was talking about. Possibly. However, when my mom stopped at 5pm to let Hugo out, she was convinced someone was in the house. Weird. 

When Roger FINALLY got back from the gas station, he came in, surveyed us both...and acted like everything was perfectly normal. He chatted with the lady for a moment before we excused ourselves to kiss the kids goodnight. In reality, we went to the living room and hissed information back and forth and I clobbered him for taking too long at the gas station (not really, but sorta).

Back in the kitchen, we pulled up an extra chair and made small talk, gaining as much useful information from her as we could. Except for the moment when she tried to take Hugo outside, everything was mostly okay. She cried a lot but wouldn't tell us what was making her sad. Instead, she said she was happy that she was safe...that she had found our house, apparently.

Roger and I had no idea what to do with this women who seemed content to sit in our kitchen, make small talk and play with Hugo. I started to wonder if we should let her crash in the house, but that didn't seem smart or safe. So, I asked her if Roger could take her home, and if home wasn't a safe place, if we could take her somewhere else. We ended up with all her information--address and phone number, name and age, parents' names and address, what she did for a living, and her boyfriend's name and what he did for a living. Craziness.

When she and Roger stood up to leave, I wrapped her in a tight hug and prayed over her. She cried...

The story of what happened next is Roger's story. I don't know all the details, but it didn't go well. This is why I ended up at the police department and then later in my kitchen with the police officers. We joked around, chatted about kids and dogs, and how we need to lock our doors. One of the officers knew the woman and was worried about her. After getting all our information and the address, they set out to her house. But not before Roger had them bow their heads so he could pray over them, over the situation, and for the poor woman who will more than likely have no idea what happened last night.

At midnight, the kids were still sitting up in their beds. Roger tucked them back in, prayed over them, read scripture over them and they fell asleep and slept all night in their own beds. He read scripture over me and prayed for me, impressed (I think) about how calmly I handled the situation. And about that time, we heard something above us in the attic. So what do we do? We giggle and argue about who is going up to catch whatever is up there. We argue about the fact that we can't shoot it because the police will come straight back to our house. We search the kitchen for a weapon and decide to use the Gladious sword given to Roger by our pastor (thanks John!). So with a heavy duty flash light, a towel, and a Roman sword...we went hunting. After two o'clock in the morning, we fell into bed and tried to sleep.

I have no idea what happened last night, but I know that a very drunk, very frightened woman ran into the right house. I didn't shoot her, punch her, scream or ask what in the world she was doing. I smiled, said 'hi', held her hand and made her coffee.

I. Am. Strange.

This morning, I am all too aware that the Lord and His angels were standing around watching a crazy show and smiling ear-to-ear at all the insane thoughts going through my head. But it was a pretty hilarious show. The only thing forgot was to take my bow at the end.

Dangit.


~Gia















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