Nowhere to Hide

We try so hard to hide. We squirm, manipulate, compete, lie, steal, cheat. We drink, eat, shop, and use to keep from being found out. I have done each of these things -- so have you. The ground is level. The shame however, is unique. My gut is in knots right now because I have two people hiding, one by choice, the other en-utero. Neither are safe. 

From inside her, he muses:
Something has changed, there is no more room here.
I must go, I must move on, but where?
What happens next? 
I’ve only known these walls.
What kind of world awaits?

I’ve heard a voice singing, crying, praying, laughing.
I know her. I am from her. She is my mother.
When she cries - I feel it, every single wave of toxic relief.
When she uses - I respond. 
My heart speeds, my forming body clenches. 
I am left wanting more, this is physiology; not morality.

I am born aching for a fix. 
I am wired to want what is “bad” for me. 
I am programed at birth to run and hide from all that is good and hard.
And worst of all, she was born the same way.
Losing me means facing her.
And when she sees herself, she runs.


I sound like a broken record. But, I am actually a record broken. I will sing the same thing a thousand different ways exposing the destruction and onslaught of sexual abuse in our culture. Every. Single. One of our women has been sexualized somehow, some way, from an early age. She then becomes a part of the cycle, perpetuating the problem. Her lifestyle isn’t a slew of moral or immoral choices - it can’t be seen this way.  Rather, she vacillates in a stagnant swamp of physiological and psychological reflex. A Divine interruption is necessary, but it’s necessary over, and over, and over again. The only way of breaking the perpetual cycle of abuse and addiction, poverty and manipulation, self hate and self harm is taking ownership (of course) in light of LOVE and grace. This is gutsy work that requires showing up. 

The running is hard wired. The hiding is the only way any of our women have survived. It’s also how you’ve survived: divorce, bankruptcy, porn, alcoholism and still kept your day job. Or maybe you didn’t, and you had to put on a cool collected front, schmoozing with people you despise rather than asking for help from those who really care about you.  Authenticity requires us to love ourselves like God loves us … this is a surrender. 

Why don’t our women want to be vulnerable and surrender to the help they need? Are you kidding? Do you enjoy surrender? Letting go of ourselves, our way, our pride, ego, entitlements, comforts, and addictions is the WAY of the Kingdom, but it’s not really rewarded in the world. And so here again we are making choices, just like our women must. So, here we are in the same boat again. Do we choose our way or God’s? Most often we run, we hide, try to camouflage our freak flag a little more for acceptance and love by others … but, we can’t fool God. He knew Adam and Eve were in hiding before He ever asked “Where are you?”. God loved them no less after the fall. God still pursued, stilldesired to co-labor with them, and even did the dirty work of making them a covering for their shame. He wasn’t afraid of their nakedness, they were.

Yesterday when my stomach was in knots over our woman and baby in hiding, I cried out to God: “Show me what to do! Tell me what to say! We need a breakthrough Jesus!”.  I heard the Spirit’s tender whisper cry back, “I can tell you’re so upset about her, now let’s talk about the ways you hide.”

I am still trying to learn myself, and I suspect my friend is too. We are on this road together. Both a little frightened of real love and what it might look like to take real ownership of our lives. Maybe as I learn, I can love better. Maybe as she rises up, she will teach me about miracles in the making. Maybe if she crashes and burns, I will have to surrender all over again to Jesus. Either way it turns out - there’s nowhere to hide for either of us.

Emily Mills
 

Rebuilding Ancient Ruins

“They will build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” 
Isaiah 61:4


“Why Waco?” people used to ask us. It’s no secret Waco has a weird, infamous history. It has been affected by oppression, a horrific lynching, a devastating tornado, poverty, and cults. 

Yet, it has also boasted a slew of noteworthy accomplishments and natural gifts: the Suspension Bridge, Cameron Park, Baylor University, Dr. Pepper (hello), Balcones, and Word Music even got it’s start here. I could go on and on. Five years ago when we told people we were from Waco, we usually got a “bless your heart” nod or some would recount “Oh, The Branch Davidian place?”.  Today, without hesitation, people respond: “Oh yeah, The Magnolia/Fixer Upper town.” 
Times are a changin’. 

But, I wonder if you know of the reason God placed Brett and I here? Waco, Texas -- the place that would be the home and headquarters of Jesus Said Love. A town that would hold a space for women affected by the commercial sex industry and help them rebuild their lives. 

When you think of commercial sex today in America there’s a couple of places that come to mind: Las Vegas and Silicon Valley … not Waco. However, about five years ago, I discovered a piece of Waco’s history that knocked the wind right out of me, giving me the clarity to actually see Waco.

In 1889 Waco, Texas became the second legal red-light district in the nation. San Francisco was first, Waco followed suit. At the turn of the century we had over 100 legal working prostitutes and several “bordellos” (brothels) along the banks of the Brazos called “The Reservation” where the convention center now lies. The women paid licensing fees to work in the sex industry, money that went to our city to pay for infrastructure and averaged the equivalent of $25,000 a year by today’s standards. Over a period of 28 years, that’s nearly half a million dollars in taxes to The City of Waco from the commercial sex industry.

Many working prostitutes died of drug overdoses, alcohol, or violence...not much has changed. Reports of insanity are also documented. The average age of consent was 10 years old and many of the working prostitutes who birthed children raised them in the same line of work. The Reservation was shut down by the federal government in 1917.

When we said “yes” to Waco, and planted roots for our family, we had no idea we would be saying “yes” to the work of redeeming a place long devastated. When I drive through Cameron Park now, I don’t just see a pretty river and new development, I hear voices asking to be heard. I see history begging to be shared in order to repair generational poverty. And the good news is, God had Waco for JSL because it’s the perfect place to reconcile past sexual exploitation and “raise up the former devastations.” JSL gets to be a part of this, but today … the women get to be the heroes! 

April 10th, at Wild Torch, you will hear the stories of women who now herald a clarion call to our city and to our state. They are a part of redeeming a space, repairing the gap, in a way that no one else ever could. For such a time as this, they will repair the devastations of many generations and change their family’s legacy. We can’t wait for you to join us in this journey, awakening hope and empowering change!

Emily Mills

Wildfire

Wildfire

Begin? Again? How many times before the world gives up on me?

How far gone is really too far gone for the Balm of Gilead?

What will it take to finally love life so much that the ache for comfort-dope ceases?

Do only the elect get a stab at grace?

Who speaks the loudest, Fear or Hope?

Is that you? Who?

I will follow. Life reveals words received.

We were home this weekend, hosting family and running about to church lock-ins and sports games. Steak dinner at home on Friday and a movie night on Saturday - total bliss, present joy...if I can remain present. It’s difficult to bear the grace God has granted us while holding the mire of those exploited, of those abused.

As my favorite in-laws rolled into town Friday afternoon, the phone began to ring. I know, boundaries. “Turn the phone off!” “It’s your weekend.” I know these things and do my very best to stay in a posture of care for myself and my family. Three calls within hours rolled in of emergencies, and currently for intake it’s just two of us at JSL: me and dearest Kellie.

The calls were like wildfires burning through towns across Texas: Austin to Houston to Waco. Each woman fleeing a life of abuse and sexual trauma. One potential trafficking victim right here in my little jewel of a town, another victim of human trafficking since 15 years old and another commercial sex exploit whose husband, for nearly a decade, refused to “let her” quit dancing. I’m raw, I’m ragged headed into the week, but NOTHING compared to what these women are living. Gratitude grants grit for the work at hand. I will keep humming “the working song” (as my friend calls it) and find strength in its melody.  Because I’m not in the business of controlling women’s lives, nor am I assured of any measure of “success” in their responses, but I am available.  

It is in the marathon that you find the measurables. It is imperative that we continue in our availability to women in the sex industry because not only are they worth it, but eventually everyone in the industry either dies, ages out, or leaves by choice. No one stays in the sex industry forever. The question for communities is not only “Why do women enter the industry?”, but “What jobs are available to her when she leaves?” This is a wicked problem, yes. But the clear-cut current answer is something Jesus Said Love is offering through Lovely Enterprises.

Lovely is the social enterprise of JSL made up of micro-businesses aimed at reducing demand for commercial sex exploitation. 89% of commercial sex exploits say that they want out, but have no other means of survival. The goal of Lovely is to provide economic empowerment opportunities to domestic commercial sex exploits.

When I think of people who carry fire in their belly, a passion for what they want out of life, it’s women who have overcome great odds. Women like Shamica who is the lead baker for Lovely Buns  - the best cinnamon buns you’ve ever tasted (available at Lovely)!  I think of Stephany who is a pilot member of our 8 week paid scholarship program called ACCESS whose favorite part of class is learning to make jewelry at Lovely! You will get to carry this fire with them April 10th at Wild Torch. It’s an experience like no other. Wild Torch is our annual fundraiser using the visual and performing arts to tell the story of those who have found a way out of the industry. This is our third year and we are thrilled to have Tony nominated Elizabeth Davis back with us!  All proceeds from Wild Torch will be going toward Lovely Enterprises to create more jobs for the 89% wanting out of the sex trade. You will get to hear the stories of heroes in a way you never have before.  

For tickets visit www.wildtorch.com If you’re interested in other sponsorship opportunities, like matching grants, email me anytime! emily@jesussaidlove.com


Carry Fire!
Emily Mills

Women Wars & The Ministry of Reconciliation

The weight in my gut feels so steely at times. Heavy and dark, it acts as a literal sensation, threatening at any moment to pull me oceans deep into its current.

Sometimes, it begins rumbling long before I see any explicit “reason” or evidence...it’s just there, tugging at my attention, pointing out vibes and nuances everywhere. 

Until recently, my habit was to brush it aside. Move on, move away, move around. Without a doubt, this form of self-preservation was far less complicated. But today, I am learning that this one of the ways God speaks to my spirit, helping me lean into the discomfort.

As if on cue, the historic events of the past week have been wrought with such tension, the heaviness in my gut growing tenfold with every day.  

Social media has been LOUD: first, surrounding the inauguration, then regarding the women’s march in Washington and around the globe. At first, I didn’t know much about this march other than that it involved women coming together to make their voices heard.  But as social media amplified the two increasingly divided viewpoints, I watched friends from “both sides” begin to shame the opposing argument. Judgment spread like wildfire, spewing flames towards participants and nonparticipants alike. I watched strangers jump on personal posts and berate friends for holding certain ideals. 

I’ve had conversations with women who feel like misfits. Some aren’t “all in” either aisle and therefore this “discredits” them from being “real feminists”. Some feel that you need to really choose a side in order to fully support the overarching cause. Some feel convicted of certain truths, and this Women’s March is “making us all look bad.” Some are afraid to ask questions. Some feel shamed and belittled for their religious or anti-religious affiliations. 

Brett and I stayed up into the night discussing the issues. After a 1:00 a.m. bedtime, the 6:00 a.m. alarm went off too soon. And while my body should have been tired, that faithful gut was still wired. The usual morning shuffle began: coffee brewing, uniforms schlepped from the dirty clothes pile, and breakfast negotiations. In the chaos, an idea offered me peace, “Gather the women,” I heard. “Gather the voices, no matter how opposed. Dialogue, listen, make space for the ‘ministry of reconciliation’”.  

If I have learned anything over the past 14 years through women in the commercial sex industry, it is that many of my assumptions about “them” have been based in fear or ignorance. These fears have exposed brokenness. Brokenness requires healing. In the healing process, fears are released. A step even further: I would submit that healing always comes through giving to God and to others. In the pouring out, we are filled. 

Sounds like Isaiah 58, eh? The prophetic wisdom in this passage is almost too thick. If it weren’t for the poetic imagery, we might be too offended to tolerate it. (Church nerds: please don’t skim here because you’ve read it one hundred times.)

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
    the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
    and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.”


In other words, it is in doing justice (also known as “life worship”) that the light comes on and our bones are healed. When done with a pure heart, this work of collective healing and reconciliation directly affects our own ability to be healed and whole. Why? Because in living worshipful, our pride is confronted, our sin is exposed, and we begin to see ourselves in the very people we are serving. The poor, the voiceless, and the oppressed actually teach us how to love ourselves like God loves us. 

This passage essentially says: “Listen, religious people: you have it backwards! I haven’t chosen the way of perfection: singing perfect songs with perfect people, lifting high-performance petitions in the name of “worship.” What I am after is a lifestyle of worship that seeks to right the wrongs of your culture: poverty, nakedness, hunger, systemic exploitation, and oppression. If you spend time on this, your entire life (and entire city!) will change. You will be healed in ways you never imagined, like the dawn rising in your cloudy soul. You’ll be so well-watered by my Presence that you’ll have plenty to give away.” (My paraphrase.) 

This is the essential work of reconciliation, a gift God gave us through salvation in Christ:“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

“Not counting their trespasses against them.” Whoa. 
“Entrusting to US the message of reconciliation.” Gooseflesh. 

We’re back to the lightbulb moment. “Gather the women. Gather the voices, no matter how opposed. Dialogue, listen, make space for the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’”  

We can learn eons from one another concerning how to listen and love - no matter HOW differently we cling to certain ideals. Respecting another woman’s voice does not mean subscribing to her view. Shaming, judging, and attacking one another only raises the barometer of hate in our world. So, very soon, JSL will host a chat where we discuss all things considered divisive by FOX News, CNN, and Facebook: The Women’s March, Trump, feminism, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, abortion, misogyny, “smash the patriarchy,” and any other phrases thrown around in 2016 that could be missing context.

I have a beautiful and diverse panel of women from whom we can listen and learn. I believe this will be a safe space (both inviting and informative) for dialogue and differentiation...a space where reconciliation might start with a #PauseBeforePosting . 

Jesus Said Love!
Emily Mills

P.S. Please like our Facebook and Instagram pages, as we will post and advertise this event via those platforms! 

Let it Begin with Me

I’m cleaning out my inbox and find an unread email from last month. It's from a woman out of the sex industry for years with a desire to be involved in JSL. I feel horrible that an entire month goes by. I email her my apologies and include my cell phone. She immediately calls, it’s close to 11 p.m. — I’m feeling worn and a bit sick ('tis the season). But, I hear the Spirit, “You don’t have to fix, just listen.”

 

I pick up the phone and her story unfolds. She, in turn, asks for mine. What’s my story? Was I in the industry? Why am I doing what I do? We share, we connect, we get it. She hasn’t walked my road, nor have I hers, but here we are now walking TOGETHER. While I listen, my mind turns to the dysfunctional systems, repeated patterns I hear in SO many stories. The stories of childhood sexual abuse are commonplace — one of our women doesn’t even remember years 9-12. Then, there’s the adoption and foster care system woven with the toughest thread of rejection, the sex industry eats these children (now women) up.

 

I hear the stories of our women who are sexually assaulted by customers...and managers allow it, some even encourage it — that’s probably where I begin to “lose my religion”.  This is right here, right now, in the USA. Gang rapes, parking lot assaults, violent molestation in V.I.P rooms, and the worst — the women keep silent about it. Many think because they’re commercial sex workers that this is expected of them. Many are unaware of their rights and services that exist to help them if this occurs. Some of them have been doing this work since they were 14 years old, right here in our own backyards. And you know these people — you see them in the grocery store, on your college campus, at the mall, at the movies. They’re waiting tables, bar-tending, administrative assistants, teachers, pilots, hairstylists, nurses, etc…

 

These stories aren’t past, they’re present, current realities that happen every single day in “gentlemen’s clubs” across our country. And while the alcohol and Xanax might take the edge off of the victim, as humans we have this amazing tape that documents non-stop — our brain. It might disassociate, but make no mistake —  it DOES NOT TURN OFF. It stores, it files away, it adjusts and troubleshoots, but there is no powering down unless you’re dead. And all that coded information? Even if it’s in the subconscious, the brain signals our responses and determines much of our behavior. When life events occur that signal similar senses, that’s when we trigger, that’s when it’s brought to the conscious...that’s when things can get messy — when we pick up the pills again. Or, it’s when healing can begin; but, how do you begin to know you can choose this?

 

In all the attempts to legitimize sex for sale, I want to be transparent and clear: it was never God’s intention for humans to sell sex. We are under a major cultural effort to normalize commercial sex, and thereby minimize the trauma. The attitude and rhetoric goes like this, “Oh yes, human trafficking is deplorable; but I mean, if a woman chooses to sell sex that’s her prerogative.”

 

Sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry are inextricably linked. Porn is mainstream, and it is driving sexual appetites to objectify and exploit humans, most often women. Pornography is now becoming more violent, and violence now becomes normalized in the name of a sexual fetish, hobby, or lust. This appetite then shows up in strip clubs, needing a person, not just a screen. An appetite is out for one thing: satisfaction. It has no regard for human empathy. If you’re not “bold enough” to show up at a club, you do what most cowards do, go online— buy a girl there.

 

These “clients” (well, client would be a legitimate business term and this business is illegal)  show up at hotels, the one your family likes to stay in, and purchase sex. Many times from underage boys and girls. This underage child is not a prostitute, but a victim of human trafficking. And when she becomes 17, guess what? She “acts out”, drops out, runs away from home, and starts soliciting sex online and the cops’ hands are tied because in Texas, a 17 year old can be criminalized. When business slows for her online where will this teenager go? The clubs. Or maybe an app - a lot of the industry is moving to live webcam sex and such. The sex industry has a huge advantage now because of technology and social media, they’re picking off kids left and right. Poverty is still the number one risk factor for human trafficking, but in our country, middle - upper class high schools are hunting grounds for recruiters. In a well known Texas suburban ISD, there are 35 human trafficking cases currently open in their high school.

 

Church — wake up! Your ministers, your deacons, your congregations are being ravaged by unchecked appetites that lead to violence against women and children. They’re being arrested. Your daughters are desperate for belonging and are getting lost in social media, sexting-land. You need to TALK about this. And it is an all-play. Men and women alike are using porn more and more together. Your kids are seeing images they never tell you about. This is a cultural conditioning and we must be “awake”. Human empathy and connection are flying out the window while we argue, debate, gossip, and numb out so we can sleep. This is not life abundant.

 

“The night is gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast of the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:11-14

 

JSL is committed to reaching those impacted by the commercial sex industry as well as stopping the demand. Stop Demand School is a sex buyers intervention program where those arrested for solicitation or purchase of sex, can be sentenced to take as part of their punishment. You can read more about it here.

 

89% of women in the industry say they want out but have no other means of survival. When we stop the demand, the supply decreases. Simple economics. And when this happens, JSL is ready to help those exciting the sex industry to recover through healthy relationships, support groups, counseling and jobs through Lovely Enterprises.

 

We are not hopeless, but are counting on the people of God to first address the issue within themselves, within their congregations and thereby make change in this culture.

“Let it begin with me, God.”

Emily Mills