Good, good Friday

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A chilled wind picked up suddenly, and onlookers clung more tightly to their cloaks. The sky is gray, not unusual for this time of year, but there is a new, fearful heaviness as the clouds rolled in more thickly than they’d ever seen. The emotions vary from person to person; some are weeping, others cursing, and still more were indifferent or confused. One figure though, one lone, hooded figure, is possibly the only observer absolutely quaking with delight. Though it’s only early afternoon, it feels as if dusk has long since fallen away, and that suited him just fine. Finally, after centuries of planning, after so many infuriating failures, the so-called Son of God would be a problem he no longer had to suffer. How desperately he had tried to snuff this infestation out before it even started, and what did he have to show for it? He had grown tired of defeat. But none of that mattered now; in matter of moments, it would all be over. For good this time.

How ridiculous the Almighty had been to try and save them this way; in all of his eons of musings, our observer could never quite wrap his mind around why He cared so fervently for these insects. Ungrateful, slobbering, ugly imbeciles, each and every one of them! And He had had the audacity to stamp them with His very image. As if they deserved it! It was almost too much for our observer’s proud heart to bear. In fact, it was quite too much for his proud heart to bear, which is why he is here in the first place. You see, he had once been the embodiment of beauty, and so very near to the Almighty that he could reach out and touch Him. But it hadn’t been near enough, and it had been his eternal downfall. The fact that these peons had received not only His beauty, but His love, was enough to earn them an eternity of vengeful hatred. Joy did not come to our dark observer often, but today was a very special day indeed. At the sight before him, it was all he could do to hold back his laughter; the Man’s flesh was so torn and bloodied that He was almost unrecognizable, and a crown of thorns had been driven deeply into the flesh above his eyes. The observer chuckled to himself, pleased at the delightful irony. While others pushed and shoved through the masses to get a closer look, the observer was content with his chosen spot; he could see quite well enough from here. Besides, his work here was almost complete. It was almost disappointing how easy it had been; he had carefully observed the disciples for quite some time, and Judas proved to be an achingly uncomplicated mark. The plan had worked flawlessly. The only surprising hitch in the betrayal was Jesus himself. For the last 33 years, the observer had been careful to keep a safe but watchful distance from the King, his only defenses, after all, being deception and lies. Naturally, he had been prepared for an incredible fight in the garden that night, but, shockingly, none came. The Carpenter simply went with His captors without a struggle, which had brought the observer’s only short-lived moment of hesitation.

Everything was going swimmingly, and it was now climaxing in the Carpenter’s demise. Finally, the Righteous Man lifted his head and let out a cry toward the heavens. The crowd was visibly shaken, and with a frightening suddenness, the candle of day was snuffed out. Cries rang out all over the hillside, and, even more startlingly, the earth began to violently shake. The communal terror was palpable, and panic quickly consumed the crowd. Fear pleased him; it was, of course, one of his very favorite tools, and this moment of fear was one of the most delicious yet. The observer’s excitement was palpable; the brass ring was brushing his fingertips. Soon, so very soon, it would be finished.

Then suddenly, as quickly as it had been snuffed out, pale, gray daylight broke through the dense canopy of cloud, and it was obvious to all that He was dead. For good measure, one uniformed guard thrust a spear into his side, to be absolutely certain that the deed was done. The rush of fluid was the final confirmation. As they began unceremoniously taking the Carpenter down from His lofty resting place, the disciples were unmoving in their shock and grief. The Man’s mother clung desperately to one of them as they shared silent, empty tears, and other women fell prostrate at His side, weighed to the ground by their emptiness and sorrow. For many that day, their most treasured hopes had come to a crushing and unexpected end. The observer, however, paid these things no mind, for he was already well on his way back from whence he came, a sickly smile contorting his already unfortunate face.

****

Deep, deep in the darkest recesses imaginable, so far from the presence of The Most High, was a celebration the likes of which you would never wish to see. Drums beat with an ungodly fury and shook the heated walls of stone, echoing through the cavernous distance, completely drowning out the cries of the condemned. Countless beings of unimaginable terror, representing Earth’s every fear and vice, contorted their bodies in movement and triumph, with no rhyme or reason dictating their steps. The space was at once sweeping and stifling; if one looked either up or down, no end could be seen to the chasm in either direction, but a darkness that could be felt with every sense so saturated the air that it was almost impossible to draw a breath. This stifling darkness, however, didn’t seem to effect the feverish beings in the slightest. They danced tirelessly. Only one figure managed to remain still among the chaos; the observer stood tall, surrounded by joyous servants, his dark heart overflowing with enough haughty pride and satisfaction to burst it. He was larger, much larger than the others; in fact he actually seemed to be expanding by the moment. 

Finally, finally, it was finished.

The pounding of the massive drums intensified to an unbearable pace. The dancers dizzyingly circled the observer at a maniacal clip, not missing one feverish beat. In pure, adulterated self-adoration, he lifted his face and arms to the gaping darkness and began to let out the beginning of a fierce and terrifying war-cry of victory. He had won. After millennia of battle, and enough lies to shatter countless generations of men, the victory was finally his. He pounded the keys of death and hell against his chest in magnificent fury. They belonged to him now. The cry grew louder, terrifying in its mounting intensity, as the observer contemplated the glory that was now his and his alone. From this moment forward, each and every one of the dirty, insignificant souls of men would be his to condemn. The dancers joined in the glory with chants of their own, building and layering sound over sound until the chorus was one of deafening terror. The nefarious choir grew louder and louder, surrounded by the beating drums and led by the now enormous observer, when, suddenly, something changed. The cries continued to swell, but in a new and more frightening way. Suddenly, so suddenly, the deepest reaches of the cavern shook more violently than ever before, until the walls began to crumble and debris showered from above. The observer was unshaken, but the dancers sensed a disturbing change. One by one, they stopped singing, and one by one, the dancing ceased; the drums beats faded into the darkness, and yet the fierce cries did not fade away. The observer’s cry was met, joined, and surpassed by another’s, something foreign and terrifying to the beings in its  familiarity. The quaking was now too much to bear, and the frightful beings scattered, terrified, in any direction they could. Only now did the observer come far enough out of his pride to realize that something was very, very wrong. His battle cry abruptly ceased, but another cry,

the unknown cry, did not. In the distance, the sharp, crushing sound of ripping chains and twisting metal fell upon the observer’s ears, and he knew instantly that someone, somehow, had destroyed the massive gates. This was not right, and for the first time, the observer felt fear.

And suddenly, there was light.
Every inch of the endless chasm flooded with a light so blindingly intense that the observer could not hold open his eyes. It flowed and pulsed from its Source in ever increasing waves, filling every crevice with a spectrum of color and glory. The light whitewashed the stone walls with its heat, as only the presence of the Almighty can. The observer was now flat on his back, eyes forced wide with the greatest expression of utter, complete surprise that has ever existed and that ever would exist again in the lifespan of the universe. He was now face to glorious face with the one he thought he’d never see again; the Son of God. But He was different now, so very different.  Only hours before He had been a torn and bloodless shell of a man, but now, oh but now, he was dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. But for all His surpassing glory, fresh wounds remained on His hands, feet, and side. And the light! That aching, saturating light! The observer,  frozen in terrified shock, for the most fleeting of moments, marveled at the beauty and glory he had so desperately longed to posses. But in an instant, the sharp terror thundering through his veins brought him back to present moment. All of his minions were long gone; they knew their place, and it was nowhere near the Most High. Instantly, the keys the observer had so proudly been clutching to his chest were out of his grasp, and into the smoldering hands of Almighty Yeshua. The fire in His eyes grew impossibly intense in that moment, the greatest moment in the history of the world. As the Almighty looked fiercely into the observer’s eyes, the Warrior King His people had been waiting for for so long was fully embodied, and as He took back the keys of death and hell, His thundering words changed everything: “Now and forever, these belong to me.” 

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.

Pearls


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…

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.”

Fear not.

I do not want to write this post.

Just thought I’d start off with some transparency there. I’m scared that by writing all of this down for all the world to see, that you will judge me. That you will think less of me. That you will realize that I have never had it all together. That you will think I’m crazy. Weak. But as my pastor always says, “This ain’t the Christian prom!” And I feel like I need to write it. I feel like I need to share about a journey that I went on through a very dark place, because I couldn’t even begin the process of coming out of that dark place until I found out, rather startlingly, that I was not alone.
That was the game-changer for me. And maybe it will be the game-changer for someone reading this. I need to write (maybe to you) about my journey through chronic anxiety, panic-attacks, and depression. If that’s a place you’re in right now, (or have ever been), you are not alone my friend.
First of all, I’ve always had a natural bent toward anxiety – my personality is an extremely empathetic one, (to this day, I have a very hard time separating myself from other people’s problems, feelings, and pain), I tend to be a hard-core worst-case-scenario thinker, I’m very creative and artistic (this, I later learned, is a risk factor for these kinds of problems. Who knew?), and I’m a very cerebral person, spending alot of time in my own head. This combination of factors and personality traits is, apparently, kind of a perfect-storm for anxiety related problems.
But it wasn’t until high school that these issues really started rearing their ugly heads in my life. Maybe it was the hormones, the teenage drama, I really don’t know. Somewhere around my 15th-16th years, I started having real, honest-to-God panic attacks. Now if you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know how terrifying they can be. If you haven’t experienced this particular rush, understand that people have actually been hospitalized for a heart attack, and it turned out to be “just” a panic attack causing them all the same symptoms. Which is pretty freakin’ intense. For me, they were usually initiated by a spiraling pattern of negative, horrifying thoughts that I simply could not control. (Something I later learned in counseling is caused by my relatively minor case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.) Often, these thoughts involved worst-case-scenarios regarding absolutely every daily situation I encountered. If I was driving down the road and a tanker truck was about to pass by, my mind would instantly visualize it smashing into my car and exploding into a ball of flames. If my baby brother was crawling near me on the kitchen floor while I was unloading the dishwasher, my mind would conjure up an image of me dropping a steak knife directly onto the soft-spot on his head. On and on, over and over, day after day, I was plagued by terrifying thoughts that, like a cancerous tumor, wrapped their tendrils securely around my brain. Inoperable. Impossible to eradicate. I couldn’t breathe. There was a literal, tangible weight on my chest. Soon, I was having 4-5 panic attacks every single day, I couldn’t sleep, and I was just paralyzed by fear.
And I felt completely alone.
I felt like I was losing my mind, truly going crazy, and that no one else had ever felt the way I was feeling. Consumed, every moment of every day, with panic, fear, and the sickening images that were swirling around in my mind. I didn’t tell anyone about it, because I thought they’d have me committed. I was terrified of snapping, of finally going off the deep-end. More than anything, I feared hurting someone else. So, to comfort myself, I decided that if it ever got to that point, I would just drown myself in the bathtub before anyone got hurt. I never wanted to die, I just wanted to protect those around me from what I truly believed was my insanity.
These were my darkest days.
I remember being up in the middle of the night over and over again, pleading with God, weeping to Him, to save me from my torment. To give me peace. To take away my fears. And getting no response. Just silence. Just moonlight spilling all over the floor. (Which was where I often tried to sleep. I don’t know why.)
But then two big things happened that changed everything. (And I don’t remember the order that they happened in, but I do know they both happened within a relatively short period of time.) One, I broke down and told someone about what was going on. Inexplicably, an unlikely friend and her mom at a sleepover. Crazily enough, they had some personal experience with these issues, and they were the very first people to tell me that I was not alone. Two, I saw an infomercial (I know, right?) during one of my many sleepless nights advertising a program specifically designed for people suffering from chronic anxiety and depression. That infomercial described people just like me, normal people, sane people, who felt the same things that I was feeling, and came out on the other side OK. That night, I wept uncontrollably, crying out to God, so thankful, so lighter-than-air, just knowing that I wasn’t the only person in the universe feeling the way I felt. For the first time, a ray of light started cutting through the darkness. I felt hope.
So, needless to say, that friend’s mom told my parents about my “bathtub plan,” which really freaked them out, and they sent me to counseling. Which was exactly what I needed. In counseling, I learned that I was not crazy. That countless other humans dealt with the same issues that I was dealing with. That being smart and creative put me at high-risk for these kinds of problems (go figure.) And that I had obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it didn’t have to ruin my life. Plus, we bought that program from the infomercial. I learned techniques for dealing with my panic attacks, and for not freaking out about thoughts I couldn’t control. It took alot of time, trust, and patience, but as I sit here typing to you today, about 10 years later, I can tell you that I have been almost completely free from panic attacks for many, many years. I still struggle with anxiety, and I probably always will to some degree, but God has healed me and redeemed me in ways I never could have imagined. Now, I am truly free. I also realize now, looking back, that God protected me from so many things during that difficult season of my life. For example, I never turned to self-harm of any kind. I never tried to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Not because I’m something special, but because God was carrying me, looking out for me, and sheltering me from all kinds of dangerous paths I could’ve taken had I not been trusting in Him. I also never required prescription medication to help overcome my anxiety.(Though I feel I must clarify that I have no problem whatsoever with such treatments, and acknowledge that they are necessary in many situations. In my own personal case, I just didn’t happen to utilize them in my recovery.)
God reached out to me in some unlikely ways to show me that I wasn’t alone, and to get me on the road to trust, peace, and healing. Maybe it’s the internet that will let you know that you are not alone today. That will let you know that God loves you more than you can ever imagine, and that He will not leave you high-and-dry no matter how dire the situation may seem.
You are going to be alright.
You are not alone.
Fear not.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Recommended Reading

New segment! (Or first-ever segment I suppose.) I love love love to read, and I get really excited about whatever I’m currently devouring, so I thought it would be fun to throw my recent favorites up on my blog, and I want to hear about your current faves too! If you’re looking for something new and interesting to try out, maybe you’ll find something here.
Here’s a handful of gems I’ve discovered in the last few months:
Fiction:
Beautifully written; gives a fascinating and realistic picture of circus life during the Great Depression.
An equal parts heart-wrenching and uplifting look at race relations in American in the 1960’s. Beautiful characters with unique voices.

Deeply intriguing view into 19th century rural China and the lives of the women who lived in the inner realm.
Non-fiction:


Frank, fun, and challenging. A must-read for women of this generation!

This one made me seriously reevaluate even the most seemingly innocent cultural and media influences on young women. Fascinating – makes you think.
Beautiful, inspiring, and insanely challenging. The story of a well-to-do teenager who gave it all up to live in Uganda with 14 adopted daughters. Wow.
Is space travel really all it’s cracked up to be? Hilarious, smart, and well researched.

Dad, you will LOVE this one! An easy to digest history of disease, health, and the good, bad, and ugly ways we’ve handled it all.

Not nearly as wigged-out-crunchy-granola as it may sound to some. Simply empowers women to have extremely healthy, positive, happy, and empowered birth experiences. Very informative.

So what are you reading these days?

Sucking the marrow.



One of my favorite bloggers ever, Kelle Hampton from Enjoying The Small Things, often uses a phrase in regards to getting the most out every minute of life: “Sucking the marrow.” It basically just means taking the time to really invest in joy and drink in every experience life has to offer.

I just love that.

And this weekend, we sucked the marrow baby.

In fact, we gulped it.

We headed to Asheville during the absolute, glorious PEAK of Autumn color and stayed here:

Oh yes. Your eyes do not deceive you. That is, in fact, a tee-pee.


There were campfires, shooting stars, telescopes, songs and guitars, and fun new friends to laugh and talk with late into the night under the stars.

And, BTW, Asheville is just magical. I’ve never been to a city more steeped in art, culture, great food, and harmony with nature. We ate at insanely amazing Himalayan and Brazilian restaurants. We sat shoeless on cushions on the floor of a tea room. We lounged on rattan sofas to the sounds of a hammered dulcimer while drinking authentic kava from Vanuatu. And, of course, made multiple trips to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. We wandered the vintage shops and book stores and record stores. We stared in awe at God’s spectacular creation. And we just laughed and talked and tried to pack in as many fun new experiences as possible. It was glorious.

But we’re happy to be home in our (warm) bed. Content and sleepy and filled with joy.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year.


I love October. It’s like, my favorite month. And we’ve been reveling in every scrumptious minute of it. Last week, that breathtaking sky greeted us here:


The Big Mo! It was our first time ever at a drive-in together, and we had a blast! The Big Mo is kinda a local treasure. It has remained basically unchanged for the last 50 years, and it is just a delicious little step back in time. We’re hooked.

And then last night, at about 9:30, I was working on choreography for my dance class, Braden was studying for a midterm, and all was peaceful and winding-down at the Poovey Palace. And then, suddenly struck with a wild-hair, I said, “Hey babe, why don’t we pop over to the fair real quick?” And 5 minutes later, we were in the car. And it was heaven. No planning, no coordinating, just pure, spontaneous fun.



And then there was this – my all-time favorite carnival ride EVER. (My uncontrollable hyena-like cackling has even been known to score me free rides from amused carnies.) Feel free to laugh along with me.

I love how sharing a ride at the fair is the ultimate unifying human experience for strangers. No matter how different you may be, when you ride something crazy together, you form a bond yo. I had a beautiful, hilarious “conversation” with a couple who didn’t even speak English from opposite sides of the rocking ship consisting exclusively of hand gestures, facial expressions, and laughter. It was a riot, and we shared knowing smiles and giggles as we parted ways after the ride’s magic had finally been broken.

And, by the way, this exists. Fo’ real:


Now I’m getting excited about this weekend. What new adventures will it bring? No one can tell. But I’ll give you a hint – at least one adventure includes white-water kayaking!

Happy Thursday!

October Sky


When dawn broke on October 1st, we in SC were greeted by crisp, cool air, heavenly breezes, and a startling Autumn-blue sky. Literally overnight, Fall has arrived.

October was all like “Now you know you couldn’t start Fall without me ya’ll! Bizzow! Octobah is in the hizz-ouse!! Now let’s get this party started!

(That’s how I would imagine October would sound if it were, in fact, a sentient being and could, you know, talk)

We kicked the season off right last week with a favorite annual tradition: our “First Day of Fall Soiree,” which was literally so much fun that I completely forgot to take pictures. (Trust me on this, ok? It totally rocked. For realz.) And I wouldn’t be surprised if my husband and I literally turned into a couple of pumpkins for all of the delicious pumpkin by-products we’ve ingested over the last 9 days.

(Word of the day? Literally.)

This weekend we’ve both been plagued by yucky colds, which forced us to slow down, stay in, and indulge in some truly delicious rest & relaxation. We’re talking great books, classic movies, steamy mugs of apple cider, open windows, lingering brunches, tandem motorcycle adventures, and lots of laughter. (My husband’s the coolest – have I mentioned that lately?)

Last night, temps dipped into the 40’s, so I decided to find a unique way to warm up…


Oh yeah.

That’s me.

Inside a flaming hula-hoop!!!


And it was ah- wait for it -mazing.

And nice n’ toasty! I think I’m hooked. A fire hoop may just be on my birthday list!

Weekend phone dump:


How are you kicking off this spectacular Autumn season? I’d love to hear about it! Stay tuned this week for favorite Fall movies and smashing cool-weather-reads. Happy Sunday!

Why the Twilight franchise is teaching young girls horrible lessons.

I’ll admit it: I enjoy the Twilight series.

I own all the books and have attended midnight showings of all the movies so far. They’re not spectacularly well written, some of the plot devices are stupid, and, frankly, alot of the characters suck. I can’t really logically quantify what’s fun about them for me, but for some reason, it is, and I’m willing to give myself a pass to enjoy them. What can I say, it’s a guilty pleasure.

But I’m a well adjusted, critically-thinking, happily married adult woman who can differentiate between fictional fluff and real life, which is very unlike a large volume of Twilight’s target audience. Would I let my future “tween” daughter devour this series? Eh, I’m not so sure. There are some positive messages in the stories, (sacrificial love, abstinence until marriage, don’t murder people even when you really really want to, etc.), but alot of the messages young women are getting from these stories are just plain jacked up.

1. Your life will be empty and meaningless until you get a boyfriend.

If you were going for both awkward and nauseated, you nailed it.

Let’s start with a character I absolutely loath: Bella Swan. Yep, she’s the lead protagonist, and everything about her basically spits in the face of every strong literary female who’s every graced the page. Imagine if Elizabeth Bennett had curled up into a ball of self-loathing after Mr. Darcy called her ugly at the ball and never did anything productive ever again. The end. That’s Bella in a nutshell. The book lets you know right off the bat that Bella is not particularly pretty, not particularly smart, doesn’t have any friends, is painfully shy, has horrible self-esteem, and is so clumsy that she’s practically disabled. She has no apparent plans for the future, no goals, no dreams, and no hobbies. She moves to Forks in an emo state of passive-aggressive self-exile and plans to be miserable and brooding for the foreseeable future. Wow, what a gem. But then she meets a sparkly guy who wants to kill her, and suddenly she’s found the true meaning of her existence. Which brings me to my next point:

2. Even if a guy tells you he wants to kill you, it’s cool to stick with him anyway and just hope for the best.

That’s the face of a murderous bloodsucker that your teenage daughter wants to make-out with.

So Bella meets Edward and she is instantly plagued by an unhealthy level of obsession with this chach. At first, he avoids her like the plague and treats her like crap, which inexplicably only fuels the fires of her passion. Eventually, the truth comes tumbling out and he tells her that he is not only a vampire, but that he particularly wants to murder and eat her more than any other human on earth. He tells her in no uncertain terms to stay away from him, because he could literally kill her at any moment. For some reason, this just makes Bella even more hot and bothered. Someone needs to get this girl some therapy.

3. If my boyfriend is controlling, clingy, and exhibits stalker-like behavior, it just means he loves me.

We’ve got a stage-5 clinger.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, here are some things that actually happen in the story: for months before he and Bella even start hanging out, Edward sneaks into her bedroom every night to watch her sleep. In most states, that’s a restraining order and possibly jail time. (Bella just thinks it’s romantic.) He also constantly tells Bella what she can and cannot do, going so far as to grab her and physically force her into and out of various situations and even removing parts of her car’s engine on one occasion to keep her from being able to leave the house. He also frequently has mood swings which cause him to yell at her, boss her around, and generally just be a jerk. If this girl were my client, I would call the police for her.

4. It’s OK to date a guy who’s old enough to be my great grandfather.

Does no one else have a problem with a 109 year old man dating a 17 year old girl?Just because he’s encased in Robert Pattinson’s sparkly, brooding, eternally 17-year-old body does not make this dude any less old or any less creepy. And in what universe does a dreamy, immortal guy with the wisdom of the ages fall for a whiny highschooler with all the charm of a dead carp? “Oh, but Bella is an old soul! Only a guy like Edward could be her true match!” You know who else thinks she’s an “old soul?” This chick:

Now imagine if that guy was twice as old. Would that make it less creepy for you? I think not.

5. When a boy you like dumps you, there is no other option than to plunge headfirst into months of misery and crippling suicidal depression.

Shortly after this screen-shot was taken, Kristen Stewart was pooped on by a chipmunk. Serves her right.


In New Moon, Edward dumps Bella for her own good after his family nearly eats her at her own birthday party. And how does Bella respond? With a few days of tearful ice cream eating over Lifetime movies followed by pulling herself up by the bootstraps and getting on with her freakin’ life? Oh no. That’s what a healthy, well-balanced person would do. Immediately after the breakup, she actually goes into some altered mental state, loses the will to go on, and falls to the ground unconscious in the woods, forcing the entire town of Forks (e.i. 13 people) into a search party to track her down. Bella then proceeds to spend the next six months literally in a near-catatonic state. She wakes her father up every single night screaming in her sleep, severs every relationship she had with her friends, and basically just withdraws from life in every imaginable way. She even starts hallucinating – hearing Edward’s voice in her head every time she does something stupid and dangerous – which makes her start purposefully engaging in high-risk behaviors to enter into this hallucinogenic state. (Luckily, the book glossed over the inevitable time spent with tranny hookers and gratuitous heroin use.) Is anyone else seeing how freaking insane this is?
Why her clearly negligent father didn’t force her into therapy and psychotropic drugs is absolutely beyond me. And what eventually brought her out of this state of insanity, you ask? Did time and counseling and some well prescribed happy-pills finally heal her broken heart? Nope. She tracked Edward down and latched on to him like a lamprey, never to let go again…

And finally,

6. If you really, really like someone, you should give up everything for them. (Which includes but is not limited to your friends, your family, your goals, your education, your career, and even your immortal soul.)

Oh, on second thought, you kinda taste like Funyuns. Never mind.

Not that Bella had any real goals or dreams to begin with, but after Edward hits the scene, everything else can just go straight to heck for all she cares. All she wants is for Edward to bite her and turn her into a bloodsucking hell-beast. Luckily, Edward shows a little bit of positivity here by constantly refusing to “change” her, hoping that she will instead go to college and pursue some interests and frankly get a freakin’ life. But Bella will have none of that. College? Who needs it? A relationship with my parents? Screw those jerks. Friends? What friends? A career? But I’m not good at anything and my boyfriend is flush with cash! Who needs a rich and fulfilling life filled with positive relationships, new experiences, and meaningful contributions to society when I can just stare at this glittering face for the rest of eternity?

Uh, BTW, pretty sure those abs are CGI.