My Body, My Blessing

I have been thinking so much lately about the subject of the body. I’m not just talking about body image or the curve of the mirror...It goes deeper than that. I’m wondering what we communicate to ourselves and our Maker about such a gift. Maybe it’s because I’m 37 and raising two pre-teen daughters. Maybe it’s because I work with a population whose value is based what their bodies can do and look like. Whatever the reason, God is teaching me, and I am listening. I am ready to bless my flesh and bones and teach my children to do the same.

We talk about “the flesh” all the time in church-lingo world. We are quick to belittle it, shove it aside, and call it evil. And so we should! The carnal sin-nature is evil indeed. However, the words we have chosen to describe this sin nature are dangerously close to the skin, blood, eyes, hair, muscles, tongue and voice that bear the very evidence of the Divine.

The western church has confused the carnal flesh with the Divine flesh. This mix-up has led to such brutal treatment of the image of God.  We slay and slash it. We neglect and mistreat it. We gorge and purge it. We overexert it and deprive it of rest. We objectify and exploit it. We call it “bad”  on one extreme, fearing its beauty. We indulge it in sensuality and vanity on the other and can’t restrain it from destruction. We criticize by what must sound like strange gibberish to God: “Ugh, so ugly.”  We minimize its beauty, cringing at and refuting compliments. We compare it, grieving The Architect's heart when we whisper, “I just wish….”

What if we acknowledge the glory in our flesh? What if we owned the fact that we - within our very skin and bones- hold the splendor of God? Through Christ, it is redeemed and free to reflect the glory of the Divine, unveiled! (2 Corinthians 3:16-18) The time has come to bless our body, to commission it with all its muscle to praise the name of the life-breather.

What follows here is a poem of sorts. For me, it has become a sort of chant for moments when darkness encroaches the mirror.I realize that it eems silly, talking to yourself in the mirror. I had to laugh aloud when I was done reciting [recalling Jack Handy’s Deep Thoughts on SNL!]. But you know what? We have to do this. We have to be able to look at the Divine in ourselves if we desire to extend it to others. If Jesus loves us, we need to learn to love us...in the way that He does: unselfishly, freely, knowing that because He loves us, we are liberated to serve radically.


My Body, My Blessing

My body, my blessing.

Every ounce made just right.

The wave of certain hairs, the ones laying straight;

My hands, hips, eyes, brain.

My lips, my voice;

My arms stretched wide or hanging low,

Each inch perfectly knit.

 

My body, my blessing.

Blessings all different, not one the same.

Listen to darkness:

“Mistake. Too much. Too little. Never enough.”

God silences, singing: “Masterpiece.”

 

My body, God’s blessing.

Evolving, taking its time, not everything at once.

Each year, a new response to life:

a wrinkle, a creak, and crack. Ouila!

“You’re alive!” my blessing exclaims,

“Onward to eternity!”

The intricate, the microscopic -

DNA, Divine Nature Attributes;

the invisible stamp of God, revealed in me.

Given a birthdate.

Blood rushing through veins, cells multiplying,

Equipped to uniquely navigate light and shadows.

Moving, bending, sensing.

 

Powerful, the blessing self-heals.

Open, it reaches to heal others.

My body, my blessing.

 

Compare? Call the blessing imperfect and flawed, ugly or incompetent?

Cut? Nip? Gorge? Neglect?

Send it back?

Fist pointed at The Maker: “Poorly executed!”

Rethink the Sistine Chapel?

Yet God, to whom even greatest artists dare not be compared,

painted me.

My body, my blessing.

 

“Here, some nourishment,” - I feed.

“There, there, rest”  - I care.

“Dance! Move!”  - I strengthen.

 

Alive with God embodied,

No building or cosmos can hold my interior.

Framed out, the Architect designed the residence.

Window-eyes, mirror light pouring,

Swords of honey flowing from the tongue,

prophetically slaying darkness by raising new life.

 

Bless my body, enjoy God.

Harm my body, curse God.

I stretch wide my arms, the sun salute.

Opening spirit, soul, body to Love.

 

I am a miracle upon miracle upon miracle.

Today proclaiming:

My body, my blessing!

"Dancing With The Devil" & The Power of Story

The week leading up to Exxxotica in Dallas was distracting to say the least. Several of our women (and my dear friends) were experiencing relapses that I can only blame on the twisted manipulation of the sex industry. I began experiencing a lowness so heavy, it almost sent me running for the hills the night before the Expo.

But deep down, I knew I heard the Spirit drawing me to go to Exxxotica...even if just for the day. I now firmly believe that He sent me to the Dallas Convention Center to meet and connect with Anny Donewald, author of Dancing For the Devil and founder of Eve’s Angels.

At the time of the Expo, I had read some but not all of Anny’s book. But, to be honest, my pride kept me from engaging. I thought, “I’ve read these books before”...but little did I know the deep truths that I would sit with on those pages in the days after the Expo.

  Dancing for the Devil takes an in-depth look at Anny’s struggles and sheds a new insider’s light on the horrible reality of the sex industry from someone who’s seen the worst of it. This captivating memoir shows how women from all walks of life find themselves trapped by the sex trade and, most importantly, explains how they can get out, start over, and find the love of Christ. Courageous and unforgettable, Dancing for the Devil is a heartbreaking story of darkness, grace, and, ultimately, redemption.

 

Dancing for the Devil takes an in-depth look at Anny’s struggles and sheds a new insider’s light on the horrible reality of the sex industry from someone who’s seen the worst of it. This captivating memoir shows how women from all walks of life find themselves trapped by the sex trade and, most importantly, explains how they can get out, start over, and find the love of Christ. Courageous and unforgettable, Dancing for the Devil is a heartbreaking story of darkness, grace, and, ultimately, redemption.

In the first chapters of the book, the reader quickly discovers not only that was Anny was a dancer, but also that she was sexually abused as a child. Reading her story meant remembering my own. 95% of women in the sex industry have been sexually abused as children (www.wearecherished.com). In fact, Anny asserts that, “With the amount of shame and secrecy that cloaks women in the sex industry, I firmly believe that these statistics are higher than what women will report.”

Heading into the convention (past the “pastoral” barrage of verbal assault “in the name of Jesus”...read more here), I searched for the familiar “Eve’s Angels” logo and booth. Past all the sex toys and pornographic videogames, I finally spotted it toward the back. Before long, I spotted what looked like Anny In the corner of the booth, furiously unwrapping bracelets with laser focus. I felt a sense of caution approaching her...we had been texting back and forth, but had never met face-to-face. She was the real deal: blunt and to the point, no frills and certainly no fluff.  

“Anny?” I said, “I’m Emily Mills, we’ve been texting.” She looked up, gave me a short smile, and continued sorting her Eve’s Angels bracelets. She oozed tenacity. I pulled up a chair and took a seat. I dared not ask to help her with her bracelet sorting...she would clearly be the type to tell me to stop if I was bugging her, so I followed her lead and just start helping. Our hands stayed busy while our mouths started talking. Finally, she asked the question. “So Emily, why do YOU do this? You were a dancer? How long?”

It’s funny to describe what I feel when industry girls ask me this. I almost regret not having that same grit and testimony, the earned ability to relate to them on this level. Like refugees rebuilding their freedom after living in a war-torn country, nothing in the world compares to the bond of sisterhood that former dancers have with one another. Regardless of hometown, nationality, or club name, they all escaped, and they all get it.

“Nope, not a dancer.” I replied. And then I took a breath, knowing I needed to be totally transparent.

“Anny, I actually believe God sent me into the clubs not to save strippers but so that strippers could save me.”

Anny’s hands stopped. She looked up and locked into me.

I continued, “I was sexually abused as a child, and God has used women in the industry to draw me into healing. It’s been the craziest thing.”

“Yep. You get it. Let’s go outside to talk.”

I followed her lead.

Over the next six hours I spent with Anny, it became even more clear that she was a big part of why the enemy was trying to keep me away from Exxxotica. I needed to hear her out.

Not only has she been chewed up and spit out of the industry, she’s been “pimped out” by the church in many ways too. Unless you’ve endured severe trauma, you have no idea what re-telling your story is actually like. The act of verbally reliving trauma (also known as “sharing your testimony”) can conjure up the same feelings of exploitation and manipulation. Men paid to watch her dance; churches paid to hear her talk about it. This made me grieve for the Bride. What have we become? Who are we? What are we asking of survivors?

As soon as I got home, I picked up her book and didn’t put it down. I needed to hear Anny’s story. She is living with the shrapnel and scars and choosing to walk in the pain nonetheless. Her book “Dancing for the Devil” is the closest thing to walking into a club you can get. I have asked all of our leaders to read it, and I’m giving copies to the women in the industry...it is a true wake up call if I have ever heard one!  

“Dancing For the Devil” reads like a novel you can’t put down. I stood in amazement at her courage as she page-by-page exposed the truth of the industry.  While not explicit, “Dancing for the Devil” is graphic. So is the Gospel. When I read her account of life in the clubs, familiar scents wafted off the pages. She tells it ALL...even how she was trained to recruit on college campuses:


“On our nights off from dancing...we went on recruiting missions in Lansing or Kalamazoo….we’d mingle with the Sigma Nu boys while we sized up the Kappa Kappa Gammas as potential dancers. You can tell the girls that want to get high. They fantasize about dancing and living an alter ego lifestyle.  It’s not the prettiest one, or the wildest one; it’s always the silent girl in the middle. I can spot her like an injured rabbit in an open field.”

Her keen insight and discernment that once benefitted the sex industry is now channeled for Kingdom work. And if we will listen to her, a prophet heralding some hard truth, we could see revival.

One thing I have learned: no matter where you come from, you had better know your story, and you better know it well. You must be well acquainted with your own depravity, your own suffering and brokenness to understand the cost of your freedom and the gravity of grace.

God doesn’t ask us to fix each other, but he does ask us to hold one another’s stories. And while all of our stories and wobbly roads look unique, the love of Jesus is the universal balm we all crave. Anny breaks out in hives around religion, and like any girl escaping the industry, she can spot a fake...but she knows the salve, she knows mercy, she loves Jesus, and He speaks loud and clear to her.

Will you listen?


“Dancing For the Devil” is available online here.

For more information on Anny Donewald, Eve's Angels, and how to support their endeavors, visit www.evesangels.org

 

  Jesus Said Love founder Emily Mills received her B. A. in Communications from Baylor University. While at Baylor, Emily participated in various opportunities to serve the marginalized and lead worship. This began her passionate pursuit to "put feet" on the songs she was singing.  In 2003, while leading worship at a conference for women exiting the sex industry, these two worlds collided and Jesus Said Love was born. Emily continues to lead worship around the country with her husband, Brett. They have three children: Hattie, Lucy and Gus. 

 

Jesus Said Love founder Emily Mills received her B. A. in Communications from Baylor University. While at Baylor, Emily participated in various opportunities to serve the marginalized and lead worship. This began her passionate pursuit to "put feet" on the songs she was singing.  In 2003, while leading worship at a conference for women exiting the sex industry, these two worlds collided and Jesus Said Love was born. Emily continues to lead worship around the country with her husband, Brett. They have three children: Hattie, Lucy and Gus. 

Harmony Dust: Moving Past the Past

A lot of people know me as the girl who quit stripping and started Treasures.  I am so thankful for all that God has done in my life…but He’s not done yet.  He didn’t finish with me the day I walked out of the strip club.  (Thankfully!)  He is active in my life and constantly doing a new thing.

“Forget  the  former  things;  do  not  dwell  on  the  past.  See, I  am  doing  a  new  thing!  Now  it  springs  up;  do  you  not perceive  it?  ?I  am  making  a  way  in  the  wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19

God wants to do a new thing in all of us.  A fresh thing.  An unfamiliar thing.  Something we have never seen before.  He wants to make a way in those circumstances where there seems like there is no way.  But so often, we don’t see it.  All we can see are the former things.  Those things in our past that sap our time, energy, focus and attention and keep us from seeing all that God has for us. God is asking us to forget the former things and to stop dwelling on the past. This doesn’t mean He expects us to have amnesia.  Even before this verse in the Bible, Isaiah lists out a few of the things God did in the past, referencing when God rescued the Israelites from their captivity and “made a way through the sea” for them.

God is not asking us to erase the past from our memories…but He is asking us not to dwell on it.  He is asking us not to regard the past more than we regard the work that He wants to do today.

Here are just a few of the “Former Things” that I believe distract us from the “New Thing” He wants to do in us: 

The Pain, The Mistakes, & The Good ol’ Days


Former Thing #1: The Pain

Sometimes we let the pain from our past shape our future.  We carry around the pain from trauma, abuse, rejection, and abandonment and let them color everything around us.  Our eyes are stuck on a moment or a season that cause us pain and it is all we can see.

Our unresolved pain can manifest in things like anger, insecurity, self-harm, addiction, the list goes on.

What I have learned about pain is that I have to face it to overcome it.

And because so often our pain is connected to hurts that others have caused us, choosing forgiveness is a big part of facing the pain in our past.  Forgiving someone doesn’t mean what they did is “right”, but choosing to forgive means you’re not going to let the hurt define you.

In my own life, I have discovered the words of Maya Angelou to be true, “Forgiveness is setting someone free and realizing the prisoner was you.”

The Bible also has a few things to say about forgiveness.

“And when you assume the posture of prayer, remember that it’s not all asking. If you have anything against someone, forgive—only then will your heavenly Father be inclined to also wipe your slate clean of sins.” Mark 11:25 (MSG)

Forgiveness is part of God’s plan for a healthy heart and a life of freedom.

 


Former Thing #2: The Mistakes

Sometimes it’s our mistakes that keep us dwelling on the past. We suffer from a case of the “Woulda Coulda Shouldas”.  When we focus on our mistakes, we begin to cave into feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame and all the other junk that keeps us from walking in the freedom that God has for us.

The truth is, not one of us is perfect.  We have all made mistakes, or as the bible puts it, we all “… fall short of the glory of God”. (Romans 3:23)

Here is the truth…God is BIGGER than your mistakes.

But  he  said  to  me,  “My  grace  is  sufficient  for  you,  for  my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

God is bigger than everything you have ever done wrong. His grace is enough for all of it—Abortions, addictions, disappointed families, divorce, crimes you may have committed…

God’s grace and redemptive power are so incredible that He will take the very things we think disqualify us and use them for good!

If your past mistakes are the “former thing” you find yourself dwelling on, I believe the answer lies in confession.  Both to God, and a safe person.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  James 5:16

Confession is a part of God’s plan for healing in your life.


Former Thing #3: The Good ol’ Days

That one relationship

When I had that

When I did that

That time I felt God’s presence

When we get stuck in a pattern of idealizing the past, we are never able to embrace the “new thing”.  We get so focused on what we have lost that we can’t see what God has for us.  Some of us have had to face some significant losses.  In order to move forward, there may need to be a grieving process.

A while back, a friend invited me to a grief recovery group.  Having just finished an in depth journey through the 12 Steps of Recovery (AKA Step Study) through Celebrate Recovery , the last thing I wanted to do was start another recovery group.

But as I prayed about it and considered what the next layer of healing would look like after the breakup of my marriage , I kept hearing God say, “Your pain is grief”.  Actually, it was about all I could hear Him say until I finally called my friend and told her I would join her stinkin’ grief group.

What I learned is that I had to say goodbye to some things.  Not just the marriage.  But the hope I had for it, the expectations, the pain.  It was the only way to move forward.

Grief isn’t fun.  But sometimes it’s necessary.  And God meets us in that place.  “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” Mt 5:4 (MSG)

God is doing a new thing. He has a new word, a redeemed plan, a new work He wants to do. He is making a way for you…even in that place where there seems like there is no way.  Often, it is in the context of  “desert” or “wilderness” circumstances that He does some of His best work.

Harmony Dust is the author of Scars and Stilettos and the Founder/Executive Director of Treasures Ministries, a Los Angeles, CA, based nonprofit organization [outreach and support group] for women in the sex industry.

Harmony Dust is the author of Scars and Stilettos and the Founder/Executive Director of Treasures Ministries, a Los Angeles, CA, based nonprofit organization [outreach and support group] for women in the sex industry.

“Forget  the  former  things;  do  not  dwell  on  the  past.  See, I  am  doing  a  new  thing!  Now  it  springs  up;  do  you  not perceive  it? I  am  making  a  way  in  the  wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:18-19

Don’t let the former things keep you from what God has for you today.

Are you ready to move past the past?

Love, Harmony Dust

Behind The Behavior

Have you ever played the “first word that comes to your mind” game? It goes like this: someone says a word, and you have to say the first word that comes to your mind. For example: if I say “teacher”, you might say “math” or “alphabet”. If I say “doctor”, you might say “sick”.

Ok, let’s try to play. I’ll say a word, and you fill in the blank with the first word that comes to your mind.

“Engineer”  (Fill in the blank.)

“Pastor”       (Fill in the blank.)

“Mechanic” (Fill in the blank.)

...But what if I said, “stripper”? What comes to mind?

In our culture, we identify ourselves by what we do or accomplish. When we introduce ourselves, we often ask, “What do you do?” as one of our first questions. It’s almost as if we want to place people in a social category before we really want to commit to starting a friendship with them.

What happens if we lose our job? What if we are unsuccessful at obtaining a certain accomplishment? Many people in this position are left to search for their identity and worth.

you are valuable.jpg

At The Grace Alliance, we strive to help people understand that they are valuable no matter what they do or accomplish. When I tell people that they are worthy of taking care of themselves, I am often met with a look of astonishment...like they’ve never heard that they are worthy. Have you heard that about yourself? Are you able to say with full confidence, “I am worthy of taking care of myself”?

YOU. ARE. WORTHY.

Take away all of your accomplishments, your money, your possessions, your mistakes, and your failures. I still say…

YOU. ARE. WORTHY.

This is what I love about the ministry of Jesus Said Love: they take away all judgements, look into strippers’ eyes, and say: “You are worthy.”

What would it look like if we all started doing that, even for ourselves or the next person we meet in our community? It would start to change our perspective on how we value people...so much so that we would start changing our behaviors. It would mean loving ourselves by taking care of ourselves, and asking other questions when we meet new people to really get to know them for who they are. It might even mean investing in what other people can do or accomplish.

Behaviors would change.

Then, when we play the “first word that comes to our mind” game and the word “stripper” is said, we would respond with words like “worthy”, “loved”, or “valuable”.

Because behind the behavior…is always a person. 

Jenna Hoff earned her Master of Divinity degree from Sioux Falls Seminary with an emphasis on pastoral care and counseling. As Regional Director of the Grace Alliance, she oversees operations, strategic development, training, and various community impact programs. In addition, she works with individuals and families affected by mental health difficulties assisting their mental health wellness and recovery.

Jenna Hoff earned her Master of Divinity degree from Sioux Falls Seminary with an emphasis on pastoral care and counseling. As Regional Director of the Grace Alliance, she oversees operations, strategic development, training, and various community impact programs. In addition, she works with individuals and families affected by mental health difficulties assisting their mental health wellness and recovery.

 

 

 

Jenna Hoff

Director of Grace Alliance Waco

Jenna@mhgracealliance.org





 

Exxxotica Expo

Several weeks ago, our founder Emily Mills and Director of Outreach Kellie Gibson attended the Exxotica Expo in Dallas, TX. We were invited to minister to attendees and adult film workers with partner ministries Restored Hope and Eve's Angels. The following blog was written by Emily after attending the Expo.


The Day Before: For two days, a lowness has been hanging over me... one that left me crying in the kitchen while baking cupcakes for a friend’s baby shower. I haven’t slept well. I am tired. I feel beyond my limits, and I want to throw in the towel. And there I am, getting ready to attend the Exxxotica Expo, a cultural war zone. Deep breath. Do I step?  I commit all over again to moving forward. I say aloud to myself, cupcakes baking, black and white cold tile underneath, “I am not letting the enemy have this. I am advancing LIGHT.”


The Day of Exxxotica: I’m still battling the lowness, but a morning spent at our Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market centers me. Surrounded by Texas heat and organic vegetables, I’m comforted by my little 254 city on a hill, a rich and growing community. I am known here. And then, armed and feeling not-so-ready, I am Northward bound on I-35, praying all the way.

My warrior sister Kellie meets me at the convention center. As soon as we step off the elevator, our ears pick a sound...a muffled and intense bellowing. Our brows furrow, curious. Something doesn’t settle. These voices sounds familiar, but not familial. That’s because they’re not.  

“Let the WHORES burn like S’MORES!” they’re yelling. An angry hand pounds a literal Bible, the sound echoing down the chamber. Over and over it hammers away, violently slapping an angry hand against the Word. The protesters hold many signs, but the worst reads, “You deserve rape.”

As soon as they see us, their tone shifts. Both incredulous and militant, they scream, “Jesus loves strippers?! Jesus does NOT love your whores!” Just like that, we’ve been labeled as their enemy. The biggest bulldog, muscles bulging, yells: “You’re lost! If YOU think you’re saved, you are losing your salvation as soon as you walk in those doors!” The oppression in the air hangs as heavy as Vaseline.

Men, women, and even a few children take part in the hateful protest outside of the Dallas Convention Center...one 10-year-old boy stands yelling at semi-nude porn stars for 6 hours. He’s being infused with hate and standing totally exposed to the industry.

Kellie is nauseous. My blood pressure skyrockets as I plaster a smile on my face. The lowness makes perfect sense now: the darkness didn’t want us to fight this oppression, to see such hate from the “religious right”. Reminder: it is His kindness that leads to repentance. The Bible being slammed says so.

We walk through the doors to the Expo, and I am astounded by the difference. Immediately, we feel lighter! Surrounded by nudity, porn and blaring music, we are greeted with smiles and hugs. I think to myself, “If the church were really smart and the anti-trafficking organizations really strategic if they wanted to infiltrate the darkness through LOVE they would be in here!” We cannot stay tied up in our clean pews and fight from afar.

I wept when I left, and I am still weeping from what I saw. If it was traumatizing for me to field those flaming darts, I can’t imagine the hits that the industry girls received.


The Aftermath: Jesus’s righteous anger always stirred against the argumentative, self-righteous religious leaders. The Messiah always left them confused, trumped, and speechless. The bloody crucifixion must have been so satisfying for the Pharisees and Sadducees, always frustrated with His winning arguments, His speaking in parables, and His improper healing of multitudes. Jesus exposed them as phony, and they saw to it he was exposed to the most brutal death. And still, the bulldogs waiting outside the Dallas Convention Center were begging to see Exxxotica blow up in smoke and all the “infidels” inside destroyed in Jesus’ name.

In the end, Jesus said, “Lawlessness will be increased, and the love of many will grow cold.” Though most of us aren’t screaming condemnation to porn stars, we may need to check ourselves. Are we are practicing a living Word?  In Matthew 23, He put this smackdown on the Pharisees in front of a large crowd: “They preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others….Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in peoples faces...”

I grieve for the Bride. Jesus hasn’t come back yet, which means that we aren’t ready for him. We’re not unified and we’re not pure. We still grumble and moan and yell...we’re still stingy with our time and money, thinking more about our vision and agenda for growing an organization than we do grieving for the afflicted. I’m ready for living sermons...but living the Gospel is messy and hard and uncomfortable.  I pray we will admit we don’t know the first thing about love, and instead find ourselves on bent knees, weeping, waiting dependent on God to show us.