Back in November, Mr. Wright and I traveled to New Orleans for a conference related to his business. Although we were there in a professional capacity, we still made time for a little bit of fun and sightseeing, along with meeting up with a fabulous friend from my college.
Let me tell you about Bourbon Street…
If you love live music, you’ll enjoy taking in the local bands at various venues. If you love loud crowds and people watching, and are amused by the antics of the intoxicated, Bourbon Street was made for you. If you enjoy the freedom of carrying an adult beverage down the street while you stroll, you can’t go wrong on Bourbon Street.
However, Bourbon Street offers more.
It offers no shortage of “gentlemen’s” clubs, boasting everything from “live love acts” to dancers who are “barely legal.”
I defy you to walk the full length of the strip without either being solicited for “company” or witnessing someone being solicited for the same.
As a side note, the first time I visited New Orleans with Mr. Wright, we accidentally got off the main road — something we’d been advised by locals not to do, for safety reasons — and got a little bit turned around. Teetering on my not-sensible stilettos about five paces behind my husband on some weird alley-like side street, I listened with intrigue as a curvy woman in a Spandex dress murmured, “There’s comfort inside, Darlin'” to Mr. Wright from her doorway, illuminated by a red light. (Yes, really, a red light.)
“No thanks,” he said, and kept walking. I slowed as I passed the doorway, and my husband had to turn around and drag me away by the arm.
“She said COMFORT,” I insisted. “Maybe she meant a foot massage? These shoes are killing me!”
All joking aside, there is no denying the sex trade is alive and well in New Orleans. I watched, saddened, as business colleagues of my husband wandered into strip clubs or walked down the street with confident arms around the waists of women who clearly were not their wives.
It’s the same “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mentality that rolls off the tongues of those behaving badly while traveling. And, by “badly,” I mean in ways that don’t edify their relationships, their hearts, or their spirits.
What happens in Vegas, or New Orleans, or anywhere else, does not stay there. It remains in the hearts and minds of the convicted, and it does not stay hidden from God.
Anyway, back to my point (and I do have one)…
Once we have recognized our own wounds, and given ourselves permission to process our history, and denounced the power of our abuse by breaking our silences, we see things differently.
We see others who are suffering, and we see them in a much different way than the general population sees them.
We see a special type of pain and coping that the “untrained” heart does not see.
We truly see the victims of bondage and abuse, and we cannot unsee them.
What’s more, many of them know we see them, and those victims will react in one of two ways. They may retreat, due to hopeless resignation, bitterness, or a misguided belief in “deserving” the abuse. They will look away, walk away, or otherwise remove themselves from our empathy. Others will silently acknowledge what they know we know with a pleading look that says, “Help me.”
As we passed the club advertising “love acts,” two women in skimpy lingerie lingering in the doorway caught my eye. One was animatedly engaged with a small group of men crowded around the entrance, while the other stood nearby, completely silent. I made eye contact with her briefly, and saw her suffering. I locked gazes with her for a moment longer than was necessary or comfortable, and offered her a smile.
She responded by looking down in shame and silence.
How I wish I’d taken the time to turn around, go back, and pray with her. I still regret not doing so.
It was getting later, and clubs were starting to wind down for the evening. A woman in a tank top and athletic pants, who we’d seen approach several different men during the course of the evening, talked to yet another, asking in thinly-veiled desperation, “Are you feeling lonely tonight, Sugar? Could you use some company?” When he declined, she said, “Alright… you have a good night, Honey,” and attempted a smile.
That’s when I saw the bruising her makeup didn’t full hide.
It was the end of the night, and she was probably going to have to tell a pimp that she hadn’t met her “quota” for the day.
We can’t unsee them, as heart-wrenching as it is.
Sometimes, I think, “Lord, haven’t I seen enough? I can’t save them all, so WHY? Why unveil my eyes in THIS way, to THIS issue, to THIS pain?”
I can look away, but I can’t unsee.
I stumbled across this verse, and it didn’t seem profoundly relevant to me, at first:
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3, New International Version)
But something in it made me want to dig deeper, looking at different versions of the same verse…
New Living Translation:
Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.
New English Translation (a.k.a. the NET Bible):
Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment.
Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.
Aha! These different versions, together, formed a cohesive picture for me. I can’t unsee the bondage, lest I forget it. I can’t unsee the suffering, lest I become indifferent to it.
Maybe I can’t SAVE them all, but I can be a VOICE for them all. God has given me the gift of true sight when it comes to these special daughters and sons of His… and He has given me a YAWP to speak for them.