“Well, you all know I used to be a stripper,” declared the woman sitting next to me at a Bible study I had been invited to lead that evening. She then followed this shocking statement by quoting verses from the Book of Zephaniah. She spoke with clarity and passion and her obvious love of Jesus was contagious. Let me be very candid. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around all of this. I had never met a stripper, not even an ex-stripper. Throw verses from Zephaniah on top of the situation and it was almost more than this little naive mind could take. “Who IS this woman,” I thought to myself. “I’ve got to meet her and hear more of her story.” That is how I met Stefanie.
I describe Stef as someone who “oozes Jesus.” She is radical in her love of God and love of people. She’s very honest about where she’s been, how she got there and the One who saved and transformed her. I’m privileged to go into local strip clubs with her through a new ministry to strippers in Indianapolis. (More about that in my next blog.) She is the epitome of a living, breathing message of hope for the dancers we meet. John Wesley says, “Catch on fire and others will love to come watch you burn.” Stef is on fire for Jesus and I get to watch her burn inside those clubs and IT IS POWERFUL. This is her story:
Three years. That is how long it took for me to lose almost everything. And it took almost losing it all for me to turn back to Jesus.
The day I walked out of my job as a paralegal I went to a gravesite to mourn the loss of a child I carried for 4 months but would never have. It was the day my child should have been born. I grieved not only for the baby I would never see, but for a life that looked nothing like I dreamed it would. I was a divorced, single mother of a beautiful daughter. Dead was the dream that marriage would last forever. The new man in my life, the father of the child I lost, was abusive and gone. Dead was the plan that I could create a new family for myself and my daughter. So on that day, in the pouring rain, I cried out in agony for so many things and I never once called upon the name of the Lord. Instead, I listened to the whisper of the enemy and walked right into darkness.
At the age of thirty, I walked into a strip club for the first time. It seems like that should be the day when I came to the end of myself, but it was just the beginning. For three years I sold little pieces of myself and my soul a dollar at a time. Each time I kneeled to pick up money that was thrown at me, I threw away another piece of me. My name would ring out many times as the DJ would call me to the stage, but I didn’t even know who I was anymore. The only thing I knew was the more money I made the more worthless I became. I was bitten, grabbed, pinched, groped, degraded, and humiliated and this was a world I walked into willingly. My surroundings had been dark for so long that my eyes became accustomed to it and I didn’t even realize how lost I was. What I knew, though, was when I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize myself at all. The empty shell of a woman looked nothing like the child who once loved Jesus with her whole heart.
It became impossible to separate the darkness of my life from the light of the life I had with my daughter. I tried, but as much as I loved her, I didn’t create a home for her that she deserved, so I lost her. The day she left to go live with her dad and stepmom almost killed me. If it hadn’t been for the daily phone calls, the weekly visits, and the weekend visitation I would have just let go and ended it. My life was filled with a crushing despair that I numbed with drugs. I lost my daughter, my home, and most of my possessions. I lost friends. I disappointed my family. This is how far I had to fall to land on my knees and cry out to Jesus to save me. I walked out of the club and left all of my costumes and shoes behind. I have often wondered how long little pieces of me were walking around the bar on the backs of other broken women. I walked out, turned back to God, and swore I would never return.
It has been ten years since I left the clubs for what I thought was the last time. It has been an amazing journey. One step at a time, God has restored my life in ways I could never have imagined. I am now married, have a new daughter, and the daughter I lost has been back home for six years. God’s mercy is not just for me. I will never pretend that I deserve any of the grace He has shown me. Without Him I am nothing. But it was never too late for me to discover His life-changing love, and I have a burning desire to share that with other hurting women. I have been rescued, redeemed, and restored and THAT is why I have returned to strip clubs. The love and hope that I know is for everyone who reaches out to accept it. Someone, though, has to be the one to share Light in dark places, so I go to familiar places I never dreamed I would return to and share Jesus and His love with other women just like me.
Stepping out in faith, saying yes to God’s call on my life, and following Him back into the clubs has been a blessing I could never have anticipated. To be able to speak the name of Jesus in a place where I once thought I could hide from Him is amazing. The first club I stepped into many years after leaving the strip world was the same club where I used to dance. I remember getting ready at home that night and how different it was from years ago when I would be getting ready in the club’s dressing room. I put on my jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops. I walked in there as a woman changed by the power of God. He has redeemed everything. What used to be a private dance area for me has become a place where I have been given the chance to share the Gospel with a sweet dancer who needs to know she is loved right where she is. I have even recently been given money within those walls, not for dancing, but for ministry. Yes, He redeems every part and I am so overwhelmed and grateful.
When I look in the mirror now all these years later, I see someone who is loved by God. I see someone who finally accepts His love, full to overflowing, and I share it with others…one step at a time, one club at a time, one woman at a time…in the name of Jesus and for His glory.