Right Where You Are

God (and we) love you right where you are         Lynn Stevens was a stripper for almost twenty years. But because of the organization We Are Cherished (founded in 2010 by another ex-stripper in Texas), Stevens came to realize she was loved and valued by the group’s volunteers, and ultimately, by God.

As a way to give back, Stevens started the We Are Cherished Ohio group to reach out to women employed at strip clubs in the Columbus, Ohio, area.  Each month, Stevens and other volunteers take gift bags containing lip gloss, hand sanitizer, earrings, and handwritten notes to the women.  The notes are particularly meaningful:  “You are valued,” “Praying for you,” and “You are loved.”

The group provides the gift bags to the women (and home-baked brownies and Starbucks gift cards to the bouncers) without asking them to leave their jobs.  Stevens says, “If we take away their choice, we take away love.” Even if the women remain strippers, Stevens and the group insist that “we’re going to love you right where you are.”

I find this story compelling, and I’m especially drawn to the practice that the group loves the strippers right where they are, without requiring or expecting change.  For many of us, accepting and loving others without seeking to change them (even when it would be for their own good) is a difficult task.  It seems plain that if a person is engaged in a behavior that is hurting them (or demeaning them), he or she would want to change – at least, that is what we might think.  This creates a paradox for most believers, who are happy to share the good news of God’s love but at the same time find it nearly impossible to share this love without expecting changed behavior from the recipient.

We first need to recognize this tension at work as we take part in sharing God’s love with those who happen to cross our paths or with those we interact with intentionally. By communicating any expectation of a reciprocal change for our efforts, we “take away love,” as Stevens says.

Being able to hold the sometimes opposing values of loving people and accepting them where they’re at is clearly a work of the Holy Spirit and not something we are naturally inclined to do.  Ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr says that

It is not something you can merely attain by practice, although that is necessary, too. All you can do is abide in God, and then God holds the tensions in you and through you and with you – and largely in spite of you!  Such a way of living is a participation in the very life of God, who holds all things in unity and compassion. (Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox)

The example set by Lynn Stevens and the volunteers at We Are Cherished Ohio should inspire us as we participate with God in ministry wherever we are and wherever we go. Letting go of our need to judge and our desire to be “successful” in ministry will allow the Holy Spirit to create the spaciousness we must have in our hearts to love people right where they are. Stevens says, “Jesus loves strippers, too.”  So should we.

~by Nan Kuhlman

 

For more information, see We Are Cherished .

Special thanks to the Associated Press for their article featuring Lynn Stevens and We Are Cherished Ohio

 

 

4 comments so far

  1. I really like this, Nan! When Papa holds us tight, he is also holding all the freedom-space He’s created around us. In that space we make our choices and experience the results of those choices, but the holding-tight never slacks. I have gotten the feeling that Papa doesn’t even get particularly nervous about our behavior, because His role in our lives is already settled. His way of loving people — holding them (and their space) tightly and without anxiety, without needing them to change — it is inspiring to me and my process of learning to love the same way.

    • Nan Kuhlman on

      John,
      I agree. I like the idea of “freedom-space.” It seems like we are reluctant to give that freedom-space, which is an important aspect of the free moral agency granted us. We are not simply given the freedom to choose, but part of that freedom is the ability to choose unwisely, fail, and hopefully, learn a better way in our journey. I think that God’s way of loving has much to teach us in our interpersonal relationships, as well as in our ministry. I’m inspired, too!

      Nan

  2. Helen Brothers on

    Thanks, Nan, this is so helpful for all of us in simlar circumstances of loving someone and waiting to see changes made.

    • Nan Kuhlman on

      Helen,

      We write what we need to learn most, I think. In the broader scope, we can see how effective ministry at the church level requires love with no strings attached. This way of loving could greatly enhance our interpersonal relationships, if we were willing to give others the same “freedom-space” (see John’s comment above).

      Nan


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