Transition

Transitions are awkward and are often not given the grace or attention they need.  When I think of transitioning jobs or perhaps the move that I am in currently from one home to another, it rouses up a restlessness that leaves me clutching for the worst. Fast food, too much social media, and a total avoidance of exercise become the norm in a season of transition. Transitions also make me cling co-dependently to relationships with my husband, kids and closest friends when all else seems out of sorts - this is painful for all of us. When all has been uprooted, nothing feels safe. I am there, but not yet. I am here, but not really. I am almost, but not quite. Who truly can say they enjoy transitions? 

The truth is, I used to think I loved change - but really what I thought I loved was in reality, running. Change or transition is not the same as flight mode. Escaping uncomfortable feelings, tangible pain, difficult people, or God is not how we transition and grow forward. We simply return to ground zero.

But I actually love the idea of growth and change. Cognitively speaking, I can call it good and necessary. It’s the only thing you can ever count on. Change is a reality of the human condition. I have touted myself as a person friendly to change - but what’s been revealed these last three weeks is ugly.  I often liked the idea of change because it meant moving on. Change meant I had to “do” something. And if I was the one leading the charge for change, I especially liked it. I was the one controlling the response mechanisms and in a nutshell: change meant problem solving which usually equals doing something about the problem. I am so down for doing something about a perceived problem. 

Transition: a passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another: CHANGE:
a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.

I sit around the table every Monday with 6 courageous women who are in transition. They are literally morphing before my eyes, week to week through ACCESS, an 8 week, paid program where women transitioning out of the sex industry gain independence within the context of belonging. Of our six women, 4 have identified as human trafficking victims and all have undergone various levels of sexual trauma. They got to inform what our 2 hour block on Mondays looked like. I asked them to complete a general survey about their desires, goals, favorite foods and such so I could glean from their input and pray about what our class time might entail. To my surprise, 4 of the 6 desired to obtain a skill in the visual and performing arts: singing or acting. My heart was bursting. Of all the skills to name - singing and acting? Of all the instructors - me? And so our time on Mondays has consisted of dreaming, writing, singing, dancing, and listening. NOTHING is more universal than music. It is the language of heaven. It is the sound from which we were created. Before there was matter, there was sound. Notice - in the creation story, God never creates sound. It simply is. Music is a connection to essence. 

And in a season of transition and change, what we desperately need is connection to our spirit. That part of us where the holiness, unshakable, loving nature of God resides. I don’t know another way to connect than song, and the women desired to sing - and so we have. We have acknowledged the transitions in their lives and the grief that accompanies death of the old. We have reminded ourselves that we will always be facing a transition and in fact, have LIVED through them all. But have we lived them well? Have we allowed ourselves grace when we’re agitated and short tempered? Have we given ourselves permission to be sad and feel lonely in this space where so called “friends”, especially friends to have “fun” with, are gone? 

What has come of this time has been amazing language and imagery. Just yesterday one of our ACCESS sisters wrote a poem and shared it with us. Immediately the others said, “Emily, put that to music, sing THAT!” I shifted and shook a little… “what, like right now? Do any of you have a melody?”  Brett came out of his office and sat at the incredible baby grand donated to JSL, he began to play a simple chord structure...back and forth….back and forth...lulling and calling me to connection. I closed my eyes and waited for a tune.  Could I give total access to the Holy Spirit, be as childlike and vulnerable with this process in front of the others?  What if the poet didn’t like it? What if it was a crappy melody? What if the words didn’t fit into the meter? Could I change them or would she be offended? Nonsense. I had to let go. I had to venture out into this kind of exposure if I desired them to do the same. And so I sang her words:
                
“What was broken became strong -
What was soiled, what you thought was wrong.
Strength manifesting beauty, 
Every breath given peace, peace.

Watch her grow, tears of joy hit the sky
There is power, there is power when you cry
When you cry
When you cry

She’s a light in the darkness
My firefly, oh butterfly
Watch the harvest

Stunning, graceful, hope exudes
You feel Him, know Him, He is you. 
Living through us he made us strong
Firefly,
Butterfly,
Stay strong.”



The truth is, we are all in transition. Are we connecting to where God is moving us? Where God is desiring to grow us? Are we observant learners of ourselves. As we will roast the marshmallows and transition to falling leaves and carving pumpkins, can we bless all that has fallen away, can we grieve what we lost in the warmth and sunshine of summer? Can we find new mercies and joy for today?  If you need some help - cue the music. 


Emily Mills
Founder, Jesus Said Love

Love Letters: A Movement of Love

I have no fancy letters behind my name, I barely completed Baylor with a 2.75 GPA and couldn’t get hired thereafter college to save my new marriage. In fact, I don’t know why they let me into Baylor other than the grace of God in the form of my Sunday School teacher, Mary Burch, who drove me down, set up some meetings, and helped me figure out how to work as a student. My life has been grace upon grace. Am I smart? Yes. Creative? No doubt. Resourceful? My middle name is “Scrappy”. Hard working? Depends on what I’m working for. So before you go any further reading, you should really decide whether or not you want to listen. I am no theologian. My only qualification, like a couple of apostles I read about, is that I am an untrained person who has been with Jesus. 

Jesus has lead me, my husband, my children, on a road of listening hard and long to broken stories, broken hearts, broken lives, broken systems, broken churches, broken people - of which we are first in line. He led us to listen to women in the sex industry because 1. God knew I could lean my chair in toward the woman who has been neglected, abused, objectified and molested. God knew my heart would respond empathetically. But, 2. God knew that in learning from her, I would see the entire world differently.  She became our teacher to not only see ourselves, but to see the broken systems in the world. Because when you listen to those on the outside, your insides change.  Jesus knew this, which is why he modeled it in his life and ministry and told us to pick up our Cross and follow Him. 

Now, what about this Cross? What about Jesus? Is this Way really what I signed up for in when I was 8 years old at camp? Is this death to rights, comforts, addictions, and all evils truly what I’ve given myself over to? IF I have said “Yes” to Jesus then here’s to looking at my new life according to Jesus in Matthew 11:

I will be sent out like a sheep among wolves. I must beware of men who will deliver me over to courts and flog me in the religious establishments, I will be dragged before politicians and authorities because of the Gospel of Christ. I will experience division in my family of origin and my in-laws because of Jesus, because of the confrontation of evil -  son against father and mother against daughter. My love and allegiance to my family will be challenged because of Jesus, and my commitment to Christ must be first. In fact, my enemies will be those of my own household. I am not to fear. What Jesus tells me in the dark, I must say in the light of day and what I hear Him whisper to me, I must proclaim on every rooftop I can stand on. 

Seems a little salty. Matter of fact, more like sandpaper. Jesus did not profess allegiance to the political regime of his day. He didn’t tow any party line. Jesus was respectful to people, not broken systems - like touching women, the dead, lepers, and dining with “sinners”.  He turned over tables and called them  names like “whitewashed tombs”. He picked wheat when he wasn’t supposed to. He was angry - but without sin. Jesus didn’t just protest the system, He brought the Kingdom to bear within it. The apostle Paul was continually beaten by government regimes, jailed, brought before Caesar, shared his testimony, is brought again before the Jews as a fanatic of The Way (a crazy cooky sect that follows Jesus). Paul continually rails against the governing laws of the day but then says to us in Romans 13 to “be subject to the governing authorities”. Keep reading, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” 

But what if your rulers ARE terror not just to good conduct, but merely to being yourself? What about when civil liberties are taken away? What about when systemic oppression exists? What about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who would not bow down to an idol?  I bet they wouldn’t have stood with their hands over their hearts and sung the Babylon anthem either. What about in Acts 4-5 when Peter and John were told to quit talking about Jesus and they said “Nope. Not gonna do it.” (total paraphrase). What about when Hitler ruled and one of our Christian brothers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was on the oppressors hit squad? Dietrich was hung because of this, just days before the American liberation of POW camps. Perhaps you’re thinking, “but their resistance was for the name of God or Jesus, not civil liberties!” But isn’t religious freedom one of our civil liberties, one for which we, as Americans, revolted against Britain? Didn’t we build a better country, fleeing religious oppression? Yes! Except that we oppressed an entire race to build our freedom. This is where our history’s inception gets really hairy and according to the Scriptures, “you reap what you sow.” #karma

Here’s what we know according to Jesus: apparently we are really good at interpreting weather forecasts but not really good at getting the pulse on how God is currently at work in the world (again, my paraphrase Luke 13:54-59). We want to argue position rather than listen to each others interests. A history professor at Baylor, Dr. Beth Barr, recently told me that when her students get in debates regarding current topics, she usually brings in a story from history.  She told me, “there’s not nearly the fear in discussing controversial topics in history because we have survived them and the conflict has been resolved. There’s a common truth that humanity has landed on as to whether the fallout was true and just, or corrupt and evil.”  I hid that truth in my heart so I could remember it in times like these.  I know, according to the Holy Scriptures and history itself, that racism is evil. I know according the writings and teachings of Martin Luther King Junior, that he loved Jesus and modeled Christ-like behavior. Yet, most white people in the southern states resisted the Civil Rights movement, including white churches and I would presume, much of my family. I know according to history that Brown vs. Board of Education was ruled fairly. YET, many schools were formed AFTER this ruling to limit access to black students - including my hometown high school, Robert E. Lee in Tyler, Texas of which I was named Ms. Robert E. Lee in 1996.  After the Brown vs. Board ruling, my high school was built as far from “black town” as possible, cloaked in a confederate flag, given a Rebel mascot with young men dressed up in Civil War uniforms to fire off a cannon at football games. Again, this school was built AFTER the government ruled in favor of this law. (They are considering changing the name - learn more here.) 

Was Tyler, TX resisting government authority? Why was it okay for them to build a school that flew in the face of this law, but it’s not okay now for players to take a knee during the national anthem? 

This is tense stuff. How do we respond as people of The Way, that crazy cooky sect that got Paul, Dietrich, and these modern day martyrs killed? Scriptures state our allegiance to Christ and His Kingdom supersedes all else. So, what is the message of Christ? I think love is the truest, but hardest recipe.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” to the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:9-21


IN THIS SPIRIT: Jesus Said Love is inviting every person to participate in “Love Letters” to unleash a movement of Christ’s LOVE and Light on this earth. We had this idea a few weeks ago, but apparently today is “Love Note Day” so now it’s a no-brainer. Duh, we’re doing it. 

 

Share the LOVE!
Emily

Hurricane Harvey and Sex Exploitation

One thing is for certain, natural disaster doesn’t discriminate. Also certain, natural disaster hits the poor and disenfranchised the hardest. For the past few days Brett and I have spent hours on the phone with family, friends, churches, and ministry partners who are picking up the pieces OR simply still surviving the effects of Hurricane Harvey. From a club manager’s friend stuck on a roof with her children, to our own family wading in waist high water surrounding their home, our stomachs have been knotted with impact as we have watched the news. 

Houston is my husband’s hometown. Houston formed him, and therefore helped to form us. His home church family that spent their lives wrangling, teaching, and feeding him has been impacted. Heritage Park Baptist Church, we are with you. Houston is a city stacked with steeples and BIG ones. Houston has birthed and held some incredible ministries.

Houston is also a hub for sex trafficking and sex exlpoitation- it is now underwater. With more massage parlors and strip clubs than any other U.S. City, Houston is known to professional sports teams as a go-to city for sex. But what does it matter now when the city is flooded and people are stranded? It matters greatly. We cannot forget that victims of sex exploitation and trafficking, already traumatized, could literally be swept away in the flood. I have sat up wondering, what about the women in brothels with no identification and already terrorized? Did the pimps ditch them? Who will we find trapped when the waters recede? What about the runaways selling their bodies, the women who don’t own their own phone, the ones who don’t have access to their belongings - who has been there for them? Where are they? We cannot forget them. 

Our JSL Houston team extends love to those many deem “unlovable” or “too tough”, women in the commercial sex industry as well as victims of sex trafficking. Many of our women have estranged relationships with their families, are couch hopping, living paycheck to paycheck, struggle with addiction and mental illness, are single moms and have endured countless years of sexual trauma - usually starting at an early age. Many of our women fall below the poverty line even though they might make hundreds or even thousands in one night. The money isn’t theirs - it belongs to the pimp, or the club, or their drug habit. In Houston alone we reach 200 women every month with the love of Christ, unconditionally. We partner with several ministry organizations around the city who are serving to fight exploitation and build a new identity for Houston and its people. Many of our partner ministries have been hit hard: safe homes, victims and individuals interacting directly with them. 

Like Rahab who “lived in the city wall” of Jericho when it came tumbling down, many of our women live in the city of Houston, now underwater. Those who are hit hardest, are those with the least amount of resources. Those who have no family and middle class or wealthy friends to bail them out. No one to tell them where to file the insurance claims and how to handle the paperwork. Our women, already traumatized and struggling in life and recovery, have now been slammed with a catastrophic flood to survive. What I know is that our women are resilient, but resiliency doesn’t happen without support. Resiliency isn’t “pull up your bootstraps and handle it”. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after difficulty and no one can do that alone. 

So what is JSL doing to help? We are strategically gathering funds to help those most vulnerable in the wake of this disaster: victims of sex trafficking and sex exploitation, women in safe homes, single moms, the poor. We will be helping specifically Perpetual Help Home in Victoria, TX financially as they rebuild. If you want to give directly to PHH go to: www.perpetualhelphome.org  We are also in contact with Redeemed Ministries whose safe home in the Houston area was damaged and underwater. If you want to give directly to Redeemed visit: www.redeemedministries.com

Your support of JSL has blown us away in the past. You constantly have shown up and shown out where we have asked. Today, we are asking for donations in the wake of this disaster to support in relief efforts towards the least of these affected by Harvey. Please help us give aid to individuals and ministries across Houston and Southeast Texas. We desire to be a river of God’s love to those who feel forgotten and overlooked. 

Jesus is the rescue the church gets to extend in the form of physical help, finances, clothes, shoes, food, and connections. You are the body laid down for others that we get to embody before the world. It is time for the Bride to rise and shine. 
 

Emily Mills
Founder, Jesus Said Love

The Good, The Bad, The Beauty.

All of it is begging to be unleashed. The wrestling of heaven and hell isn’t meant to be contained. I am marvelously good, wicked bad, and incredulously beautiful. So are you, but perhaps less reluctant than I. 

The Good: brisk, cold tea with a shot of simple syrup and fresh mint. Babies - every single last one of them. Squishy two year old piggy pie toes. Deep belly boy laughs (snorts included). Discovering the tween years with your daughter where braids and boundaries coexist constantly.  A confident teenage girl (it is possible). When the Holy Scriptures echo your exact moment, this is balm.  A lone wildflower bursting among tree lined trails. Water: rivers, lakes, oceans. Savory Southern pot roast with carrots/onions/potatoes dripping in au ju on a chilly winter night, shared with friends and paired with a robust red. Stories over girls night then relived via endless group texts - the obnoxious texts that make you spit out your coffee in the carpool line. Family. Marriage. Home. Vacation. Ridiculously large underwater swim masks - ears bent and lips like a duck’s beak. 

The Bad: Skeleton’s lurking in inaccessible closets. Reminders of the curse, well fashioned darts fired off by friends, family, ministers - the sharp shooters. Shame. Betrayals, the ones I committed. Slander slithering from my snake like tongue. Resentment. Anger. Hatred. Punishment. Manipulation, always self protecting. Death too soon, too tragic, too gruesome. Cancer. Sickness covering the whole house of God. Impaired movement and energy - glory hindered. Black fog depression - bed bound and oppressing an entire family. Sorrow by the tons with rows and rows of shark like teeth; I could only wish to be swallowed whole and avoid the bite. All the losses. Buried dreams and hallelujahs. Life deflecting numbness. Denial. 

The Beauty: Resurrection: the union of good and bad working together toward ascent. The power to rise, even if only from bed to coffee pot. Beauty is perspective that only ascension can offer. Beauty is seeing with new eyes like blind Bartimaeus. Can I be honest with what I see and continue telling Yeshua, “I see people as trees”, until I’m healed whole? Can I be this curious? To keep telling The Christ, “I am only seeing halfway, help me fully see.” Do I merely take what I am given the first time and refuse to beg for more? Do I pretend to see, to live, to act like I have more than I really do? Bartimaeus was gut-level honest. To gain full healing, he essentially had to tell Jesus, “your healing didn’t work all the way the first time.” The audacity! How rude, how ugly, and what terrible manners. “You get what you get and don’t throw a fit, child.” Isn’t this what we say? Isn’t admitting what the lackluster parts of life, career, marriage, parenting, and singleness considered ungrateful? Isn’t admitting a desire for more ostentatious? Beauty is here, it is now among us, and it’s locked inside of your good manners and cultural mores. We are terrified of real beauty because it is honest. Beauty is power, and it is very attractive. But Beauty costs. To see beauty IS to see grief, anger, lust, pain, sorrow juxtaposed with glory, goodness, gladness and joy. 

Perhaps I was born to see the world a certain way, perhaps it was learned...nevertheless, I see ridiculous imperfections and “to-do’s” everywhere, but mostly within myself. And to admit that, to name it, to allow it, has felt like guilt gravy slathered on my soul for as long as I can remember. Perhaps my evangelical, Southern Baptist upbringing cultivated an avenue for control and continual self-improvement. Or, maybe it’s because I felt so incredibly out of control in my body, and at home, inside my own skin. I have always longed for an orderly, better-than way and this compulsion was esteemed in every institution I belonged to: family, church, school, sports, theatre, ministry.  And while I craved order, chaos was a magnet -  and this is a disease, a sickness affecting every relationship I have ever held. Yet I’m beginning to see...it is my sickness that is both a twisted curse and the doorway to Christ’s glory.

Religion rewarded my doing good, the clean, shiny appearance, the helping and healing of others. If not careful, I could be among the religious wreckage of individuals who gave so much that their bodies and families break down, who sacrifice a slap happy marriage for saving the poor when a “once for all” sacrifice has already been made. Did Jesus really ask us to ignore the misery in our marriage, in our family, in our church, in friendships and then cope by using ministry and church-serving like a drug? Or, was that the Ancient Serpent worming the Word of God to suit our egotistical quest for self worth? Religion lives in a shadowland of extreme victory and denies the narrow way of Christ-like transformation. Has anyone told the best sellers, the heroes and heroines on stages, the millionaire 3 steps to fixing your life and air filled arsonists offering strange fire that to deny the bad is to banish beauty. Bad can be good.

But we are terrified of this beauty - this is a part of the curse, to fear that which will save us. We are afraid of naming the bad and trusting Holy Spirit to make the good. We are afraid of letting go. We interpret living in the light as never admitting our dark. Jesus, who was without sin, teaches us about humanity. Being human is not a sin. Jesus wept - grief is a necessary painful, “bad” part of humanity, but it is not sin. Jesus questioned God as he headed to the Cross, “if there be any other way this cup could pass…”, this was a conversation, an admission of apprehension. Jesus sweated blood, major anxiety - is this bad? Yes. Was it sinful? No. So to endure our humanity and all the “bad” that comes with it, is part of our glory, our making, our unleashing of Jesus on the earth. 

Maybe, just maybe, we can pull the curtain back behind what we think is so “bad”...and discover a frail human, waiting for an invitation toward authenticity, toward rescue, and into true beauty. How much power is waiting to be unearthed in soil we thought was useless and shameful? Let’s get to digging.
 

Emily Mills
Founder, Jesus Said Love

Take Care

The quickest way to fall? Helping someone when you’re headed down. It’s one of the swarmy ways the darkness slithers into fertile soil with weeds, choking out good fruit. If darkness can scream loud enough, or whisper long enough - that other people are more important that myself, my family and my friends (all the grace God’s given me to steward) - that’s when I jump the ship of God’s life for me and into an ill fitting boat with no life raft. Good News, Jesus still calms seas and walks with us on water to where He originally intended us. We can re-enter Eden.

I am learning to recognize the many schemes sent to distract me from the joy of knowing Jesus and walking in right relationship with others. All of us who “love to love” others are sometimes really just hell-bent on fixing everyone. Our culture rewards fixers, doers, achievers. Lots of that is misdirected energy and affection on what God is wanting to do in our own hearts for the truest benefit to others. The evil one tempts us with the notion of service and even twists the words of Jesus more than we like to admit. Getting wrapped up in another person’s drama is not helping them, or serving you. Waking up to someone else’s world means you’re not showing up for your own. These are principles I am learning in the coolest old school recovery group. 

Agnes is a mentor and dear soul of 70 years who I can call on in a pinch to help me focus and see clearly. She is a simple and unassuming sage who possesses wonder and delight in this world. At our meetings together, someone shared a tool that I have carried in my right hand pocket ever since: Q-tip. That’s the tool. When you find yourself offended, upset, or emotionally drained think of a Q-tip. Quit Taking It Personally. This friend said she used Scotch tape and stuck it to her dashboard because it helped her with road rage. I have stuck it to the dashboard of my heart to soothe a deeper anger, one of resentment. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor AS yourself.” This is the greatest commandment. The one we are really supposed to “get” in the whole big scheme of things. And yet, if the way we treat one another is an indicator of how we are treating ourselves, we have some repair to do. I know I’m not saying anything new - theologians and philosophers have been writing on this stuff for centuries. Perhaps, I’m just awake to it now and watching ministry and church cost the Kingdom rather than build it. I am seeing marriages fall apart because we refuse to know ourselves and let God teach us who we really are. I see a college girl who go lost in being a man’s everything and a college boy who responded like a wounded 10 year old would - with a passive yes. A score later and neither of them know how to really take care of themselves because they’ve been appeasing another or numbing out for too long. God is after our hearts, and if that space is not cared for, nurtured, repaired by all the woundings and trauma we have faced in life… we will spill out a toxic expectation for others to fill it. Our ministry, marriages, and relationships become marred by control, disappointment, and rejection.  

If so many people are dependent on me, then I have some serious evaluating to do. If I care more about other people’s feelings and aren’t able to name my own, it’s time to consider. If I continue feeling hurt, abandoned, and rejected but can’t figure out how I keep getting into these relationships, the common denominator is me… it is you. And for that, there is a war. For you, there is both light and dark after your soul. For you, the Son of God was slain and raised to life. For you are unique, loved, treasured, and cherished. You are worth getting to know. You are worth delight and honor and repair as Dr. Allender taught me. Sometimes, we are strangers to ourselves, and this is a great misfortune because we are the only one we can ever really know. What a lonely life to miss out on such a treasured friendship. For within you, is the light of Life, abundant and free. And when that spills over into the world, into relationships, it becomes the purest and sweetest fruit God can grow and then multiply. 

As Agnes would tell me, “Take care of yourself, sweetie.” 
 

Emily Mills
Founder, Jesus Said Love