“What would you like me to do for you?” she asked as she knelt in front of me where I perched nervously on a bench. “You need me to dance? You want to get touchy, touchy? Or for even more dollars we can do more than that…
“I have a coupon,” I said.
A coupon. How did I even get here?
It was the kind of coupon you cut out from the back of one of those free newspapers at your local “romance” shop. A sort of “Greensheet” for sex addiction. Craigslist before there was Craigslist.
I’ve said before that depression likes to hang around my family. Almost exactly one year prior to this night I’d nearly lost my beautiful, lovely wife to it. She’d plunged into a bout of severe post-partum depression – to the point where one late evening I found myself pacing the floor, crying out to God, while the police and a counselor desperately searched for her after she’d expressed her intent.
I’d been sort of a hero that year. Months before that I’d shed my addiction to porn, recommitted my faith and become “on fire” for God. So like a knight on a shining white horse, when my wife needed saving, I quickly swept in to rescue her.
Yet here I was now, sitting in a lobby with a prostitute…with a coupon.
You see during that year of nursing my wife back to health, combined with financial stress , combined with learning we were pregnant again, I’d forgotten to take care of myself. So like a lifeguard who jumps in without a flotation device, or an airline passenger who forgets to put on his own oxygen mask first, I found myself drowning and desperately gasping for air.
I was tired and I was numb.
And so like a man on a mission, my wife and kids out of town, it was 7 days of totally selfish pursuits – plunging back into the porn shops, topless bars, propositioning a waitress, and now here.
All in attempt to feel something…to feel anything.
This was my “Ashley Madison.”
I’d driven in a foggy daze for an hour to get there, to the address in Dallas on the bottom of the coupon. The rundown, windowless building was not very inviting and not exactly in a safe looking part of town. But still my mission called me.
The dark, dingy “lobby” was no more impressive than the outside. It was sparse with only a few benches. I was relieved to see I was the only one there. But with no receptionist to greet me or bell to ring, I wondered…was I even in the right place? Maybe I should leave now. No one has seen me yet. After all, I’m a Christian. And I’m in ministry, for God’s sake.
But before I could decide she emerged through the doorway, escorting out her just completed client. The other client was a round faced, clean cut gentleman probably in his late 20’s – just a few years younger than me. Upon seeing me, he sheepishly grinned. Our eyes averted each other as he walked toward the exit in his own foggy daze. Neither one of us knew whether to be proud or embarrassed.
Who was this other guy? Why was he here?
Was he lonely? Did he frequent here often? Could he not find a girlfriend?
Or was he married? Did he have children? Was he someone’s hero, too?
How pitiful and lost he seemed. How sad. How numb.
My “new hire” had me sit upon a bench while she explained the various services available. A “private dance” was all I’d come here for. At least that’s what the coupon said.
Sure I’d been to local bars with naked dancers publicly on display. To me, though, it was always such an odd exchange – a bunch of drunk men hootin’, hollerin’ and passing out money while the ladies pretended to like them back. Did any of these “gentlemen” really think it was real? I’d tried to participate in this fantasy game and yet I’d still felt nothing.
But a “private dance” – maybe that would be different. Just me and her together in a room, and alone. All for just $25, according to what the coupon said.
Sure, I was no fool to at least not be suspicious of how the game worked here, too. You go in with the promise of “basic services” for a small dollar amount, but once you’re there you get talked into so much more. But still $25 was all I intended on spending, and I planned on sticking to it. I put $50 in my wallet.
As she sat me down, the raspiness of her voice indicated a hard-worn life – a life where she was constantly having to bounce back and forth between a feigned tough exterior and an inner feminine side. Though she was probably in her early 20’s, the hollow, darkened look in her eyes gave the appearance of an experienced old soul melded with a lost little girl – one that had already seen and done too much. Julia Roberts this was not.
And then there were the scars. Scars all up and down the front of her arms – needle marks.
Why would she do that to herself? How long had she been at it?
Did she do this by choice or was it forced upon her?
Was she providing these services to pay for her addiction? Or was the addiction a way of easing the pain from the services she provided?
Or was she just numb? And trying to feel something….to feel anything.
In that way she and I were not so different. The prostitute…and the Christian husband, father of 4.
I should have left right then, and yet I was intrigued by this offer of the “more than that” to which she referred. My heart began to race. Would this be the “more” that I’d so long been looking for?
Now at that time over 14 years ago I hadn’t yet learned the truths about human trafficking and sexual slavery. I hadn’t learned that it was a multi-billion $ and growing worldwide industry. I hadn’t found out that it was an industry where mostly women and young girls, some as young as age 4, are kidnapped, bought and sold at a rate of once every 30 seconds. I hadn’t learned that they are often beaten, caged, and sometimes killed, and forced to service as many as 40 men per day.
I hadn’t learned yet that girls in the U.S are no exception, whether in prostitution, porn or your local clubs. Even if they are not kidnapped, these are women and girls who often find themselves in desperate situations and are tricked, threatened, beaten or drugged up by their “owners” with no other place to go. Cage or no cage, they are trapped. And they are persons.
Who was this person before me? How did she get here? What was her story?
She’s obviously someone’s daughter. Blonde just like mine.
Does her daddy even know she’s here?
Does my daughter know I’m here?
“I’ve only got $50 and the coupon,” I explained, a crack in my voice. “What can you do for that?”
“I tell you what,” she replied. “I’m actually at the very end of my shift. The next girl will be here any minute. Why don’t you think about it, what you’d like to do, and then you can work that out with her.”
“Okay,” I said. “Sounds good,” like I was wrapping up the end of a business deal.
And off she went.
What just happened? Was I too cheap and not worth her time? Can’t be. These types of girls should be willing to take any amount. The coupon, after all, was $25.
These “types of girls.” Is that what she is?
Maybe she just really had to run, had other things to do. Maybe she just had pity on me.
Or maybe this was God. After all, even the Bible says that when you are tempted God “will always provide the way of escape.” Was he giving me a second chance?
But if I don’t stay, what if I miss out? What if this is the “more” I’ve been waiting for?
But those scars. Those eyes. How can I do that to her? How can I do that to anyone? I’m a Christian. I’m in ministry, for God’s sake. I should leave right now. I should “flee” as scripture says.
But what if the next girl is different? Maybe she won’t have scars. Maybe she’ll be brunette.
But my wife….my beautiful, lovely wife. Where is she in all this?
“Remember the wife of your youth…”
“But, God, you don’t understand! The wife that you gave me has been sad for a long time. It’s hard work. And I’m tired…so, so tired.”
“In sickness and in health…”
“That’s just not fair, God. How long should I have to deal with all this?….And don’t give me any of that ‘till death do us part’ crap! You don’t understand. Maybe I didn’t understand when I said it. Besides, I’ve already gone too far. I’ve already messed up too much. I might as well just go for it now.”
“If you confess your sins he is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.”
“There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The minutes ticked ahead. Still no sign of the next girl. Was God really trying to give me that extra chance of escape?
But I’ve driven all this way. I’ve come this far. I can imagine in my head the things that this next girl and I can do together.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
Think about such things. Was what I was thinking even any of that?
Suddenly a male voice squawked over a speaker in the room, “The next girl will be with you shortly.”
Who was that? I didn’t even know a speaker was there?
And what kind of a jerk guy is this anyway? Is he their pimp, taking advantage of these girls? Does he give them the needles? Does he hurt them?
Am I hurting them, too?
“He will always provide the way of escape.”
“If you confess your sins…” “There is no condemnation…” “Remember the wife of your youth.”
“I still love you, Steven”
Silence. I had to take that in. Was that even possible?
“And you still love your wife.”
Ah, yes, my wife. Her name is Melissa.
The first girl that ever got me to be serious. The first and only girl I’d ever kissed.
The one with a sense of humor like no other and who puts up with my really bad jokes. The one who would stroll with me hand in hand through the botanic gardens and do picnics with me at the park.
And those eyes. Those gorgeous smiling eyes. Though she often covered her mouth to hide her happiness or pleasure, those eyes were a dead giveaway every time.
The one who captured my heart when she told me her biggest dream was to be a mom. The one who captured my eyes after seeing her the first time without makeup and I could only think, “How beautiful.”
The one I said “I do” to, so she could forever be in my life. The one whom I’d been on so many adventures with ever since – always remaining side by side.
The one whose belly my hand was on when her water burst, telling us we’d soon see our first born child. And then we both felt joy and fear together, wondering, “Are we really ready for this?”
The one I promised to be faithful to…in sickness and in health.
In sickness…yes, even in sickness.
You see, if there’s one thing that we had learned like so many others, it’s that marriage is simply hard. There are good days and bad days, joyful days and sad, healthy days and sick – and you don’t always get to choose which one.
There will be days where you feel great passion and love, and there will be days where you’ll feel nothing at all. But, unless you’re in physical danger, in marriage you don’t get to choose to just leave. You don’t get to choose not to love. Because sometimes that person is going to need you and other times you’ll need that person back. That’s the way it works…until death do you part.
And here my wife was desperately needing me. She battled an illness that tore at her heart and left a void. It was an illness that caused her to carve her own scars in her arms, trying to feel something…to feel anything.
During a rough time, Melissa once asked me, “Why do you still love me?” And I could only respond with this, “Because you are worth the love.”
Worth the love because she has value. Worth the love because she’s a child of God. Worth the love, because whether she does something right or wrong, is well or ill, God simply says she’s worth loving, and because He loved us first.
Worth the love.
That’s something that can be said of everyone – the prostitute and “next girl” included…but just a different kind from me. A kind of love that says I’m not going to treat you that way anymore. I won’t participate in the lies. You are worth it and you have value – you are more than that “type of girl.”
Worth the love.
Something my wife deserves from me the most. The kind of love that says I’ll be there for you, through all the thick and thin. The kind of love that says you are the only one for me – you are more to me than the whole world.
And so before the next girl even arrived…I left.
Walked away from a place of self-destruction, entrapment and lies.
Walked away from a place where “more” will never be enough.
And walked out into a world where life still happens…where there are no guarantees and things get tough.
Out into a world where there is good times and bad times…there is sickness and there is health.
Out into a world where my confession of my misdeeds to my wife brought both forgiveness and pain. For while her forgiveness brought healing to both of us, she now has more scars to bare.
Out into the loving arms of my God and Savior, who amazingly never gives up on me no matter what I’ve done.
Out into a world where sometimes you feel great joy and sometimes you feel nothing at all…but there is always hope… and there is always each other…and there is always love.
Out into a world where there are new but uncertain adventures to have, new problems to scale, and new stories to tell – where every day has been so worth living….with my beautiful, lovely wife.
Note: While I can’t undo the past and have no knowledge of whatever happened to either of the trafficked women involved, I (and we) can choose to no longer be a part of the problem and be a part of the solution. Everyone is worth the love…real love. Human trafficking continues to be a growing problem. With an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today, there are more people in bondage to slavery today than in the history of mankind. There are many excellent organizations who work to combat this injustice and offer freedom to those entrapped. I encourage you to get involved in whatever way you can, whether through prayer, financial support or physical action.
Throughout the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to either work alongside or get to know the leadership of several of these organizations. Here are the links to websites of just a few of those that I encourage you to check out:
And for anyone trapped in sex addiction, a good place to start is: XXXchurch
*Photo Courtesy of Márcia Novais: https://www.flickr.com/photos/couve_de_bruxelas/2230620301/in/photostream/