Sixteen years ago I spent my nights working on a puzzle into the wee hours of the morning.

While I should have been resting for school the next day (I was only seventeen), my mind was too busy for sleep. I was carrying a baby no one knew about. No one who cared anyway.

I told him.

I told him and he didn’t believe me.

I knew something was off when I got sick leaving Woodson High school that evening.

We were supposed to be in night school. We were both there, him a legal adult trying to earn a diploma and me a recovering, lonely young girl.

I went to the True Love Waits purity conference. I recommitted myself to God. I meant it. How could this happen?

So now, each night I focused on piecing together a puzzle until my eyes were too heavy to keep open… piecing together something felt good.

My life could never be put back together.

Not with a baby on the way. I would never go to college. I would never teach like I dreamed of; like that prophetess lady told me at revival.

“I was carrying a baby no one knew about. No one who cared anyway.”

I would have a baby. Then I would struggle for years with alcohol, drugs, working in the sex industry, and ultimately fight for my life trying to leave the abusive relationship that this pregnancy commenced.

But God knew the big picture even when I was blind.

I am in college now. Only four classes from completing my diploma in theology. Will I go on to get my MDiv? Why not?

That baby I became pregnant with was a boy. Brian was born weighing in at 1 lb 8 oz and they said he wouldn’t live.

He is sixteen now. He is honest and has a strong love for the Lord. I birthed four more after him.

At this moment they lay sleeping peacefully upstairs along with my husband who basically rescued me from that horrible relationship with my ex.

And I sit here piecing together a new puzzle, recalling all Jesus has done in my life.

I hear the still small voice reassuring me that, though my desperation looks different these days, He is all I need. I hear Him tell me that it’s ok if I go alone because I am never truly alone.

I see visions of the ministries yet to be birthed through my dedication to Him. I can see it now.

I’m finally starting see the big picture.

It’s beautiful!

I hope you learn to see yours as well. Keeping our eyes fixed on the faithfulness of Jesus always helps the vision.

Till next time.

Your sister,

Monica

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Last night I shared something with my husband that had been weighing on my heart.

Something that choked me up as I spoke it aloud;

“Thank you so much for what you do for our family!” I stammered as warm tears poured down my cheeks.

You see, it had dawned on me that I live quite a privileged life. Not only because of the favor of the Lord we enjoy, but also because my husband works really hard in response to that favor.

I basically get to sit at home in the presence of Jesus all day, reflecting on His goodness and then write about it whenever I feel so inspired (which is often). It has it drawbacks like anything else, but there are many wonderful things that I enjoy. For one, I don’t have to miss time with my children to go to work. I can be here for all the incredible, frustrating, and incredibly frustrating moments that bind a family together over the years.

None of this is without struggle, on my husband’s part or mine, but I want to focus here on his sacrifice. His selfless sacrifice.

Peter doesn’t work out of selfish ambition. When I thanked him for all he is doing (presently, it entails being away on deployment for long periods of time), his response was simply, “I asked God for a big family and I got it. Of course I’m going to take care of you.” All his hard work is a response to the grace of God shown in an answer to prayer that my husband had prayed since childhood.

Now… the backstory on why his dedication is so moving for me:

I have been without a provider.

I have been without protection.

I have been a young girl without a father.

I have been a mother without a father for my own children.

I have been a mother with a father for my children, but that man was actually relying on me to provide and he was happy to remain unemployed as I toiled in the strip club several nights a week.

I always thought there was something better. A better quality of man out there. A better way to run a family.

Then I met Peter…

This man has done nothing short of everything in his power to ensure the financial security of our home. It has never been for the purpose of being affluent or achieving some lofty, social status. It is all done in and for love. My wildest dreams are coming true, in large part, because of him. On top of being the breadwinner, Peter has been the iron that sharpens me and the embrace that comforts me. The voice that holds me accountable and stands by to soothe the delicate part of me when I finally breakthrough my pride, and my anger turns to tears.

This is what a Godly man looks like.

He is not perfect. But he is my leader.

I struggled for a long time, trying to shape Peter into the man I thought he ought to be if he were going to lead our home. If he were going to lead me. I’m not going to follow just anybody, you know. You had better know where you are going, because I sure do!

I wasn’t so sure he should be leading me.

Every so often, he was right about some important things, but Peter didn’t seem to have the adequate vigor for the Lord that I deemed necessary. He didn’t measure up to my standard of leadership. He didn’t qualify.

Then I reread this scripture:

“Wives, submit to your own husband as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything.”

Ephesians 5:22-24

The verb “is” became the game changer for how I treated my husband. Embracing this truth is the very thing that allowed me to shift from a nagging wife who accused her husband of trying to control her, to being a woman who cries in overflow of gratitude for the sacrifice that he makes.

The truth is, Peter IS the head of our home.

“Is” is considered a verb is because it “expresses existence or a state of being.” The Lord didn’t say that he could lead if he was a good leader, deemed worthy by me on any given day… He said that my husband IS the leader.

Leader is his state of being, not a thing I decide for him.

My willingness to walk in submission to my husband ultimately became an issue of my willingness to submit to the Word. And while I can argue with my husband all day, often getting my own way after wearing him down… you won’t ever find me arguing with the Word of God.

It was in this place of surrender that my marriage began to find true peace.

I could write on this all day (and I will again soon, I am sure of it), but for today I will leave you with this:

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church… but wives, if he does not do this, he IS still your leader and you should honor him as such. The Word does not return void. Apply it without prejudice to your own life and watch it transform everything!

I have seen this myself, that even in our hopelessness, the Lord is faithful and just to fulfill His promises.

Love each other well and without selfish ambition, my brothers and sisters. You are the reflection of the living God who has created us. The world is looking to you, to us, for example of how our Father loves. What will they think of Him if we tear each other to pieces while claiming victory in Christ?

Follow Him, follow His Word, without reservation. That is the only way to bring about true revival that we long for.

Until next time, may the Lord keep you in His perfect peace and in harmony with one another.

Your sister,

Monica

*This is not a disclaimer where I will advise you to leave if you are in an abusive relationship. God can heal that too. If you don’t believe He can, however, you should leave because He probably won’t. If you do believe He can bring healing, you need to seek counsel immediately and ensure your continued safety while your spouse begins a process of healing and restoration in the Lord.

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Sometimes it is difficult for me to get to a place of relation. Really difficult. In this case, it has nothing to do with the positive. I do not struggle to relate to Bishop T.D. Jakes because of his powerful preaching or his obvious business prowess. All those things are inside of me too (yet in development still). It is more humbling than that.

It is hard for me to relate to him as a fallen sinner in need of Jesus.

Not because I don’t see him as one, but today I somehow forgot how sinful I can be. As far along in my journey as I have come, I still have much ground to cover. So does Bishop Jakes. We all do, which is why the Lord’s mercy is new every morning. We have new need of it every morning. My bout of pride, mixed with a little fervor for the holiness of the church, made for an interesting sequence of events.

I greatly admire Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation church. Last night I watched a live broadcast of his conversation with Bishop T.D. Jakes. There was some useful wisdom in there of what I could catch between running up and down stairs trying to put my daughter to bed (that child never sleeps!), and I was taking in all that I could.

I’ve never favored Bishop Jakes per se, but he’s got a lot of knowledge in some areas that I do not, so I listened carefully. My open-mindedness came to a screeching halt as I watched the end of the broadcast, when The Bishop led the congregation in singing “I Beleieve I Can Fly” by R Kelly.

I immediately set about formulating how to best make people hear that this is not ok. I thought of all the pictures from social media recently of church members marching against human trafficking for the A-21 Foundation. And here these two greats in the church are singing songs written by a child molesting, abusive misogynist who is currently under investigation for, guess what? Sex trafficking.

Talk about fire in my bones!

I could feel it welling up from the deepest parts of me and I had zero qualms about telling the world what had just happened. In a single zealous moment, I turned from a woman passionate about grace to a woman passionate about justice… forgetting that the two work hand-in-hand in the Kingdom of God.

I forgot that my God is already aware and working on this problem in the church. And I took to my soapbox to fill in for what I thought He wasn’t doing fast enough.

I started slamming Bishop Jakes on social media (not realizing this is what I was doing at the time because, well… righteous indignation, right?). Soon after, a friend confronted me publicly with her disapproval of what I was doing. I didn’t care. I was right.

The funny thing about being right is that, absent grace… we cease to be right.

Justification of my own righteous anger ends at the place where it turns to love, and declares, “I got this. I no longer need you.” It ends at the place where I start demonizing people in order to assign blame, which is only for my selfish desire of wanting the problem to be solved faster.

People turn to problems when grace departs from judgement, and no amount of me being “right” would ever justify dehumanizing anyone.

I know this in the pit of me and yet, being still a sinner on even my best day, I am prone to wander from truth. If I don’t intentionally remind myself that Bishop Jakes is not only a leader, but also a human being who makes mistakes and sins just like me, just like the rest of us, I can become a great tool of division against the very church I love so much.

I believe we are at a turning point in the church where grace is replacing judgement in our outreach to the world. Thank the Lord!

Lets not stop there. Let’s extend our leaders that same attitude of grace they have been praying for us to have for so long. I’m not saying they are always right, that’s why they need grace too. But I am saying that God will judge them in a way appropriate for what they have been entrusted with and we cannot assume the role of judge and remain graceful. By all means, speak out against injustice. But don’t do what I did today and stoop to throwing your brother or sister in Christ under the bus because of pride or impatience.

In the presence of the Lord we all fall short. We become Christians because we know this, and we know that grace is the solution. Not judgement.

Its not the end of the world because one of my favorite preachers did something I don’t agree with. It’s not even my job to argue that there might be some sinning mixed into this situation. I’m not in that room. Maybe someday I will be blessed with the opportunity to influence some of our promenant leaders. Today, I have you all.

That is not a lesser thing to me.

So now I ask forgiveness for failing to lead you well today. I ask you to stay with me. I might stumble but I still know where I’m going. I can only pray that, should I ever have such a great platform and responsibility as T.D. Jakes or Steven Furtick, you all will remember this moment and continue to extend me the same grace when I fall… as I hope you do now.

Grace to all of you. Thank you once again for being a part of my journey and letting me be a part of yours.

Your sister,

Monica

 

Today could have been a horrible day for me.

It could have been a horrible day for my family.

My husband has been deployed in Afghanistan since March. This opportunity has been a huge blessing in many ways, however the lack of his presence is felt and grieved by us all. It is especially interesting for me to realize today that Thanksgiving has never been the most wonderful day for me.

At best, it has been a day to prepare and eat some food, try not to get stressed out, and start again tomorrow trying to accomplish all of the normal things I put off in order to “celebrate”.

Today was different. It was different because I decided that it would be different. I decided to remember not only what I am thankful for, but Who I am thankful to.

There are two other Thanksgivings I recall with impeccable detail. Days that I was alone. Days that I felt abandoned, betrayed, and hopeless.

About 12 years ago, my Thanksgiving was spent riding the metro into DC for my shift at Archibald’s. It never occurred to me that the strip club I worked at would not be open yet. I just figured since I had no family that wanted to be with me I would head in early. The club wasn’t open yet. Being quite hungry at this point, I walked for 10 blocks up 14th St. to find a 24-hour CVS. There I purchased a protein bar and a bottle of water for my Thanksgiving dinner.

As I walked past homeless men and women sitting on the sides of the street eating their meals on paper plates, I longed for what they had.

The longing wasn’t so much that my stomach was hungry, but that my soul was hungry… for someone to care enough to want to feed me. But no one could have me around. I don’t blame them. I was that toxic person who would inevitably ruin the event to which I was invited. So I stopped getting invited.

I had never learned how to be proper. How to be sober. How to be “normal.”

My lack of stability was linked to the other Thanksgiving I recall so well. And so many like it. So many years that echoed the solitude of the holidays.

As a teenager, holidays were never enjoyable in my home. I don’t mean “never” as though I had experienced no happiness ever, but rather to say that actual joy was lacking. There is a cosmic difference between a moment of happiness and experiencing real joy. My mother was fabulous at curating happy moments.

Joy however, being a thing that one cannot create or arrange, was difficult to come by in our home.

Thus, I began looking for it elsewhere. I’m not really sure what took place the Thanksgiving after I turned 15. I only recall that I could not be in my home for a moment longer. There may have been nothing actually wrong on the surface. It could have been a regular day. But there was a void. A void in my home. A void inside of me… so I just left.

I went for quite a long walk that day. It was about 2 miles to the grocery store nearest our home. I walked all the way. When I got there nothing was open. I turned around and started walking back. I was not far from my neighborhood when I approached the entrance to another community where a friend of mine lived.

Lacking in social etiquette, I decided it would be a good time to go and visit.

When I arrived, Nicole’s parents welcomed me in. I sat down to dinner with them. This wasn’t the first time I had intruded. They always welcomed me. Still, I can only imagine what they were thinking when I showed up on a holiday that people are usually with their families, being only a child myself.

I loved that house. That family.

The environment smelled like fresh food. Fresh food that had not been burnt or cooked ahead of time and then donated. I learned how to wash and dry lettuce. I heard people laugh and saw them hug. I witnessed parents discipline their children in a way that didn’t break them. When we sat down to eat we sat at the table instead of in front of the TV. We held hands and prayed. No one argued at dinner.

I had always hated when everyone finished their food. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to go “home.”

Reminiscing on all of this today has brought me to a place of peace and gratitude.

The addictions and the sin that once bound me (and left me more destitute than someone who was homeless) have been broken and forgiven by Jesus. My God has changed not only my life but my heart.

That home I found comfort in as a child has now become my home.

I am married to a man who works hard to provide so that my children do not have to rely on strangers coming to bring them food on holidays. We get to be the people who bless others today!

My daughter and I made homemade mayonnaise together this Thanksgiving.

When my children cried today or became frustrated, I had the privilege of praying with them and correcting them in love when necessary.

We sat at the table together instead of in front of the TV.

We held hands and said grace.

No one argued at dinner.

When it was all said and done, we visited with a neighbor who had invited us to eat with her family. My children sat at a different table than the adults. When I walked over to be sure they were settled, I saw that they had all been patiently waiting for me to come and pray with them.

My neighbor is not really the prayerful type. She’s not really into the Lord like I am.

She didn’t see any of this… but we prayed for her home and her family. We thanked the Lord for her hospitality and asked that He bless her and bring joy into her home. There is no lack of happy moments there. But because I have found the joy I have sought after, I could not help but pray that for her as well.

The greatest joy I have found, the deepest gratitude, is in the fact that our family gets to do this. We are privileged to be part of an eternal Kingdom that brings purpose to lives and joy into homes.

My prayer is that you also have experienced joy today. As much as you have longed for fulfillment, may it be granted to you today by our Lord Jesus.

When you find it in Him, because you will when you seek Him, pour it out on everyone around you and bask in the new level of joy that comes with being a vessel.

I love you all and wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

Your sister,

Monica

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I’ve got a good bit to share in light of Hugh Hefner’s passing, but it is not to honor him. I didn’t know the guy personally so I don’t have anything sweet to say. If I had, I would absolutely share it. Still, whatever nice things there might have been about him, it would in no way change the fact that he lived a life full of a whole lot of other stuff that we should not be glamorizing, at least as Christians. (see X Doesn’t Mark the Spot ). I’m not likely going to change anyone’s hard nosed opinion about him by writing this, but if it gets to the heart of a few, then maybe the world will be a little better for my daughters.

I met lots of guys similar to Hugh in my line of work. When I worked in Crystal City, I met men who paid the club owners to take myself and other strippers out on their yacht for the day. I was young. I had no idea that once we got out on the water, there were going to be things going on that I did not want to take part in. The women who were with me were glad to do it. They didn’t see anything wrong with using their bodies, which had been abused and used against them in the past, to generate a little income and spend time in the lap of luxury for a few hours.

That didn’t change the fact that we were rented out for the day.

The other women knew the drill. They had done this many times. They assumed I would be down. I wasn’t. After processing the shock of what was happening, I found my way down to the front of the boat. I stayed there, laying in the sun, until the trip was over. I couldn’t wait to get back so I could pop a few E pills and forget it all. Only a few short years later, I would be doing the same things, almost to a T. I never considered it prostitution because I was “dating” the men it happened with. Men who were older than my father. I didn’t consider it sex trafficking or extortion when my ex encouraged me to start stripping in the first place so he could live off what I made. But it was.

That guy would sell me for a double whopper meal at Burger King.

For years I let this go on because “he loved me”. He and all the other men who used my sexuality to influence their bottom line, either socially or financially (make no mistake that the two are tied closely together), were never in it for me. They were in it for themselves. It was during my time working at 1320 Club II in Springfield, VA that I began to see what it really looked like for people to care about me. When my ex came home from jail and whooped up on me one day during a 12 hour hostage situation I endured, the only person willing to tell me the truth was my boss at the strip club.

He saw the marks around my neck and called me into his office. “You’ll go back. They always do.”

Our meeting ended abruptly as I watched him try to hide the pain in his eyes and I was left with the decision of becoming another statistic or not. I already was in so many ways…

My father had left when I was young and was awful to me when he was around

My home was alcoholic and abusive

We were poor (like living in motels poor)

I was a teen mother

The list goes on. I decided “no more”. No more going home to a man who was trying to build an empire on the backs of women like me. No more laughing it off as he idolized guys like Hugh Heffner and suggested I go get him more women to make money. No more treating myself like an expendable piece of sex and thereby opening the door for all these “men” to do it as well. No more sleeping with celebrities and soothing my conscious with the Benjamin’s and the fact that they were famous and “nice” to me.

Of course they are supposed to be nice! I’m a human being! In the words of Chris Rock, “You want a cookie?!” Quit patting guys on the back for actually taking care of children and the powerful women who bring them into this world! And if you think I’m being too passionate about this, take a walk in my shoes for a moment…

A moment where you find Christ and your world changes.

A moment when you realize that you don’t have to serve any human being, including and especially yourself, to be loved. That you already ARE loved by the Creator of the universe and that He gave his life for you instead of trying to take yours like the world does.

But then you speak your testimony in a church and realize its not much different than the world…

The pastor of the trendy startup church plant brings you onstage to share your struggle and you think you are getting to honor Jesus. But he really invited you there because recovery from the sex industry is the sexy, idolized topic of the month. His secretary jokes calling you “his stripper” in front of the entire congregation. They laugh.. they have a moment of poverty porn born out of viewing you as a victim instead of a sister in Christ. You share nevertheless but leave asking for nothing.

Attending seminary, you later reach out to that church for financial support for school. They kick you a quick couple bucks for a “speaking fee” (that they were not willing to give until asked), but offer nothing more. Your home church is the opposite, encouraging women and treating them rightly as equals in the ministry, but you soon find that this is not the norm of church culture.

But Hugh Hefner is not the problem. We are.

The story of his life is just the jumping off point for a really important discussion we need to have within the church. To acknowledge that, as the church, we need to make more progress in the area of speaking against misogyny. On a whole, we still look way too much like the world. We’re out here watching pastors say stupid things like “make it rain”, when that came from throwing dollars up in the air over a stripper and then watching her have to crawl around to pick it up. Playing hip hop at our events that promote that lifestyle. We are so out of touch with the world we have become just like it and don’t even know it. Time to draw a line in the sand, especially on how we treat our women and children.

And brothers… I’M PUTTTING THIS IS ON YOU. Just like white people need to speak out against racism, our brothers in Christ need to speak out against misogyny.

Please? They won’t listen to us… we’re just women.

Your sister,

Monica