(Compiled of true stories.)
She’s 15 years old. From the time she was born, she had a roof over her head, food in the fridge, and drugs in the home. Her dad was involved in a gang and her mom in prostitution. In fact, every woman in her family, whom she can recall, has sold their body or become involved in turning others out for sex. They’re a tight-knit fam, the blood runs thick and so does the eyeliner. It’s harder to see light through a darkened window. God is for her.
Abortion #1, then #2, seemed like the best options as a teenager, but by the time pregnancy #3 rolled around, she decided she wanted to keep the baby. Afterall, she was 20, had a husband now, someone her Papi approved. Her new man promised she’d never have to “work” again, selling her body to strangers; but his touch grew rougher, his stare more sinister. During her pregnancy, his eyes dimmed and he spent most nights out. She was no longer desirable. Her belly and heart swelled for love as her husband grew cold. The baby was born alongside his rage. Seeing his child meant facing himself, and for a tormented little boy in a man’s body, all you know to do is bully, throw, hit. Repeat. Abuse will breed abuse until truest Love intervenes and finds a fruit-bearing partner. And still, God is for her… and God is for him.
So, she hides, she manipulates, she pleasures him... anything but run. She knows if she runs, he will find her, and if not him, her father. This is a life you’re not allowed to leave. After baby #2 arrives, the burns, bruises, and rapes aren’t exclusive to her. The children now endure his hardened anger turned lust - he has now defiled his own children. A wellness visit brings to light the trauma and the physician informs CPS. Her gut turns sour, she is sickened. She didn’t know what he was doing during their bathtime. She is ashamed and disgraced, guilt-ridden for not trying her best to flee. But fleeing would have meant endangering her children, fleeing would have meant no shelter, no money, no food. Her own family would have found her and taken her back to him. Or, should she have made a run for it? There was danger on both sides. And still, God is for them.
She’s able to leave under protective services and move across the country to Waco, Texas. CPS has arranged foster care for her children because they’re unsure of her ability to choose a safe environment. She’s totally alone now and has a GED, but no job experience other than prostitution. Hardwired, she heads to the one place she knows she can earn money for her kids - the strip club. Three years there and she’s practically running the club and beating the same block she used to back home. She’s figured a way to ditch her pimp and become the pimp. She begins turning out other women and has landed herself back in a life filled with violent men, sex-crazed strangers, and gang wars. Her tattoos share the story, and we ask about them on every strip club outreach. Little by little, inch by inch, we learn of her life, her pain, her sorrow and the shame she now carries. Forever, God is for us.
One night, we get a call - she’s pregnant... and in jail. Busted. The charge: violation of a city ordinance within a sexually oriented business. CPS is on her tail. This is her rock bottom, and she tells us:
“I. Want. Out. I am done.”
Fast forward, I am sitting in a hospital room staring at a brand new life, her brand new start. CPS told us both that while they want to have hope for her, she is not a hopeful case. I am warned, “Emily, do you understand that the men she deals with are violent gang members in town? You understand that she continues to go back to them?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I respond. I’m not sure if the caseworker is scared of the men, or scared for our girl, or both. But, I remember Father Greg Boyle's words: "Community will always trump gang any day."
“I completely understand.” I continue, “And I know some of these men. But here’s what I also know: Her motivation lies in 6 pounds of new life that is swaddled up and nursing at her breast. Right now, in the present moment, we will build on that motivation and encourage her to see all of the beauty and goodness of this new baby. It is her only chance. And, while I know these gang members are violent, I am not afraid. What we have found is that when our women begin to make healthy choices and remove themselves from this lifestyle, the men don’t look too hard for them. It’s not always the case, but there’s usually more than enough vulnerable women to take their bait.” This sounds harsh coming out of my mouth.
The caseworker and I agree to wrap around her as best as our arms can hold.
As she builds a new life for this baby, she has the hope of rebuilding the neglected ruins of her own childhood. This will be hard work, and it’s a bumpy road, but Christ is a skilled craftsman honed from the Supreme Architect. Jesus looks for collaborators, people willing to plant, plow, grow, and harvest fruit. Mothers are primed gardeners and babies are fertile soil.
Hell will come against this resurrection: setbacks, poverty, addiction, the past, anything and everything may be thrown their way. But, one thing I know for sure: NOTHING can stand against the love of Jesus. Nothing. Because, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” Romans 8:31
God is for her.
God is for this baby.
God is for you.
God is for us.