Coffee and War Stories at The Stripper BarsTuesday, January 8, 2013
I'm buzzed on some amazing coffee and second hand smoke. Who knew strip clubs serve coffee?! Let alone a decent cup, right?! But here I am, hungry (because there was no way I was ordering food from there), incredibly stinky and with a tiny headache in my temple. Should I mention the ear-to-ear smile I came home with? Because it is there...along with a happy heart doing a wild dance in my chest, overwhelmed as it is with love and joy.
Roger said that I needed to be careful, that the experience might go much differently than I was hoping. He was totally right. Nothing went how I imagined it might, but what was in my imagination was a nightmare! What actually happened was all God.
The ladies met at a church to spend about an hour on praise reports, outreach updates, where needs were being met and then to cover us all in prayer. After that, we broke up into teams and went to two different clubs. Some of us (myself included) went inside while others stayed behind in their cars and prayed the entire time we were inside.
There are specific rules when we are in the club. We are never allowed to be out of each others sight. We never go to the bathroom alone (or go at all in there) and we do not leave to a private area to talk to any of the girls, most especially outside. With this in mind, I stayed with my other ladies the entire time.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous walking up to the front doors. My mother-in-law pulled the front of my sweater up because I left my coat and scarf in the car and was now a little more exposed (next time...TURTLENECKS!). When we got inside, there was a table right by the door where a couple of men were sitting, chatting, and collecting cover charges. My MIL already knew them and they were excited to see her. She introduced me, I shook their hands while slipping my cover to them. She had us sit down with her and we all just started talking like it was completely normal to have us ladies in the strip club.
My chair was positioned so my back faced the stage...thank The Lord. There was an old man sitting there and he was so very kind and a gentleman. He asked if we needed something to drink and recommended the coffee. I was so impressed that they had coffee that I immediately said I would love a cup.
The men talked to us about their families, about Christmas, their grandchildren, and told a few jokes (some worth laughing at and some not). So far, this is not what I had prepared my brain for. There was some sort of conversation going on about finances and the economy and how the old man beside me once knew what it was like to scrape by to make ends meet. Suddenly, I am unfurling a story about the first few months of my marriage when Roger was a Private First Class in the Marines and I was only just turning 18. I told him how we had no money whatsoever and were too proud to tell our family how bad it had gotten. I shared with him how one night I said I was hungry, knowing full well that there was no food in the house. That didn't matter because Roger told me he would get me something to eat. He was in the kitchen forever, making all kinds of noise, and when he came back, he had a warm meal on a plate just for me.
My new old buddy was intrigued. He said, "Well, wasn't that something? That's a good man!" To which I smiled broadly and asked, "But do you want to know what it was?" He lifted his brows and I answered, "It was an MRE!" He burst out laughing claiming how terrible those things were. This is how he started opening up about being a Vietnam vet. We talked about the candy in MRE and how they no longer put cigarettes in them. Then we started talking about war...
*I just have to pause and say: GOD BLOWS MY MIND!!!*
I spent the whole night swapping war stories with my new buddy. He was amazing! He even rolled up his shirt sleeve to show me where he had been shot. I would ask him a question to which he would honestly give an answer...and then he would ask me a question. I told him about my experience with war, as different as they might have been from his, and he told me his experiences. He was drafted at 19 and a radio operator in the field. It's amazing he is even still alive. He told me what he did when he got home...the good and the bad. I told him about what we did when we moved home after Roger was out. I even told him the story of how my best Marine buddy said he would give me $20 if I would put a pinch of snuff in my lip. He nearly fell out of his chair laughing at the picture I painted of me turning a zillion shades of green and falling flat on my butt, swallowing the snuff and never getting the $20. He told me about his high school sweetheart and how she was gone when he came home from Vietnam and how he saw her for the first time since then this past Christmas. He told me, "And boy! She was just as beautiful as the last time I saw her!"
Through the entire night, I didn't really get to talk to any of the girls. Whenever one of them past the table, I would lift my eyes, look straight in her eyes, and smile. But now that I am home and have been informed that lesbians also frequent the clubs, I am regretting the decision to have done that. There was one girl who sat down across from me for a few moments. I introduced myself and she smiled and said, "Gia? We have a girl named Gia that works here." I gushed and responded, "Really? I'd love to meet her. I've never met another Gia!"
Then awkward silence filled the air. The girl looked down at her phone and I kinda knew she didn't have a clue as to what to think of me. Suddenly, very awkward myself, I sighed and said, "Yeah...it's not my real name, though." Her eyes shot up and she said with a wry smile, "Yeah? It's not her real name, either."
**Laugh at me all you want!!!! Because I felt DUMB!**
Nothing I saw shocked me, but I am sure one day something will (besides that, everything was happening behind my back). I got the impression that the gentleman we sat with weren't even there to 'see' the girls...but mainly to sit with a war buddy, sipping their alcohol free drinks, smoking, collecting the covers and making sure the girls (which I got the impression they felt fatherly towards) were okay.
At the end of the night, my old buddy said, "I think I missed my calling in life." We talked about how people just want to feel special and know that someone cares about them. We talked about how they just want to know someone loves them and that they are not alone. He said, "That's what these girls want. Lots of them have been abused...and they just need someone."
I don't know what God is doing or how He will use me, but I can feel His breath in my lungs and His words on my lips. I know He wants me there. In my heart, I know that my old buddy will not forget the girl who swapped war stories (of all things) over coffee with terrible dance music blasting behind us. The owner will trust that I just want to be a friend when I come back. He will even let me in the dressing room to paint the girl's nails should they desire it. The old guards at the door, my buddies, know they can tell me which girls need what and over what I can be praying about. It isn't the most conventional way to minister to the broken hearted in the world...
I'm not conventional.
The most important thing I have learned is that evangelizing means friendship. You usually cannot simply start talking about Jesus because people are hurting and have built mighty fine walls around their hearts. You have to be willing to sit beside them, talk and listen, laugh and sow some truth about themselves little by little (it takes a great deal of patience). I looked my old buddy in the eyes and said, "You have a good heart. I can see that." He held my gaze with misty eyes...and I know what he heard was God's voice.
Unconditional love. That's what I can give.