The first day there, we explored a little. We carried with us a list of places that were recommended, and our goal was to hit as many as we could on our short trip. For us, this means bars and restaurants. We are not sight-seers.
Because I don’t pay attention to much, prior to our trip I was unfocused on the fact that New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter where we were staying, is known for its party atmosphere. I was completely unprepared for the constant daytime party: thumping music, hawkers trying to lure you into bars and strip clubs, and many people wandering around with drinks in their hands before noon. I knew all about Mardi Gras, but wasn’t expecting it in the middle of September. I’d been there once before with my parents when I was a kid, and jokingly sent my mom a text: “What were you thinking, bringing children here?”
Now, look. I’ve been around enough to know what the world offers. I wasn’t shocked and horrified. I am a people watcher, and gleefully found myself in the audience watching the show on one of the best stages. There were costumed people all over the place doing little tricks and singing songs, or just wandering around to be looked at and possibly getting some cash for their efforts.
One evening we stopped to watch a group of street performers. They joked and danced and wowed us with their routine. They passed around a bucket for money.
That’s when I saw this girl nearby who was about 16 years old. She was small and beautiful, with blue eyes and long blond hair pulled into a side ponytail. She had on heavy eye makeup and was dressed in the kind of an outfit that teenage girls change into after they leave their parents’ protective eyes. Her fluorescent-pink fingernails were gnawed down to nubs. The friend that was standing next to her was dressed similarly; they were smoking cigarettes.
I assumed they were a couple of local kids out for the evening, and as the blond girl turned I saw that she had a few tattoos, one on the back of her neck with a man’s name on it. I figured she was at least 18 then, because I’m still naïve enough to believe that all people with tattoos are over 18.
The show ended, my husband and I left for dinner, and I didn’t give the girl another thought.
Until I saw her much later standing in the doorway of the strip club across the street from our hotel, dressed in her underwear.
My heart and stomach sank as I tried to grasp the reality of her life. I tend to have an active imagination so I instantly went all Apocalypse Now: troubled family, abuse, drug addiction. I tried to imagine what would bring such a beautiful girl to Bourbon Street to work as a stripper, at least as bait for a strip club. I felt sorry for her and wished I hadn’t seen her. It was nicer for me to be detached from what went on inside a strip club, but now that I had humanized this girl, I wanted to whisk her away from what I perceived as a horrible life.
Later I thought about my instant reaction to this girl, which was judgment. I didn’t know her. I didn’t know her circumstances. Maybe that night she quit her job and reunited with her family. Maybe she works in the strip club to make money to feed her family. Maybe she just started working there, and in a year will start a Bible study among her fellow strippers.
I don’t know what her deal is, and that’s the point. God knows, and I believe that she was there for reasons that are not mine to know. On my end, maybe she was there for me to see, wonder, care, and pray for her. Maybe she was there to remind me that his plan is not for me to figure out. Maybe she was there to make me see and share my own judgments that are so natural for me but ultimately wrong.
I probably will never forget that girl. The thing that I have to trust is that God won’t either.
|Chill out, Judgy McJudgerson. God's got this.|
Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do… It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! Galatians 6:15 (The Message)