If you are a woman in desperate need of food, clothing, shelter but had no viable means to earn an income, what do you do? If you live in poverty, and want you and your children to have a few nice things, how do you get them if you don’t have money?
The following story is a much more normative experience than many of us in the middle class bubble would like to admit. There are many variations but the story is basically the same. A woman feels trapped and trades the necessities of life for sex.
Jessie grew up in a single parent home. Her father had taken off when she was 4 years old. Her mother had two other children by different men than Jessie’s father. Her mom lived on welfare. They lived in a dirty apartment in a section 8 housing development. By the time Jessie was a sophomore in high school her mom had been married twice and had lived with six other men outside of wedlock.
School was hard for Jessie. She was hopelessly behind. As she started her junior year in high school she was testing at the elementary school level for English and math. Jessie wanted to appear middle class but deep down inside she believed they viewed her as “white trash.”
She was longing to be loved. She wanted to be special to someone. She kept pursuing relationships but they always ended badly.
Jessie had lost her virginity at a party her freshman year. She discovered if she gave her body up for sex she would be popular with the middle class boys. They all went to parties hoping to “get lucky” and Jessie obliged them. Each boy she hoped would take her out of the generational poverty she had been raised in. But they all ended up using her for sex and casting her aside.
Jessie dropped out of high school about halfway through her junior year. She met Sam, a 20 year old high school dropout, at a party at Christmas. Sam got her drunk and had sex with her. He liked the sex so much that her brought 16 year old Jessie back to the old mobile home he was renting to stay with him.
Jessie basked in Sam’s attention and began to fantasize about having children and a real family. She couldn’t understand why Sam was so angry when she got pregnant. He worked as a construction helper making $9 an hour and they had plenty of money to party with. They could party a little less and have a family instead.
Sam came around and seemed to embrace his future family. All that changed when the realities of having a newborn living with them set in. Jessie was in no way prepared to be a mother. Sam couldn’t deal with the change in his lifestyle. Sam and Jessie started fighting. It wasn’t long until Sam was telling Jessie that is “just isn’t going to work out.” He kept threatening to kick her out during their fights.
Jessie talked to her mom about moving back in with her. Her mom wanted nothing to do with Jessie and her infant child. She had a new boyfriend that had an eye for Jessie. Mama wasn’t going to have a rival living in her house. Nor was she going to deal with crying babies and sleepless nights.
Jessie was very scared about her future. Sam was threatening to kick her with the baby out of his trailer. Her mother didn’t want her back. She had no job and her prospects were slim to none. How would she survive? With that pressing question on her mind she got into a conversation with an acquaintance, Ricky, at a party.
Ricky had his own place and a job as a part-time mechanic at a quick oil change place. He showed up at a lot of the same parties that Sam and Jessie attended but seemed to be more mature and mellow than most of the guys there. Jessie was now at the ripe old age of 18. Ricky was 27 years old. He wasn’t as ruggedly built as Sam but he seemed to have a stability about him. Jessie began some serious flirting.
The flirting paid off when, during one of their fights, Sam stormed out of the house. Jessie called Ricky. She gave him a big sob story and he came and brought Jessie and her daughter Misty home with him. Jessie rewarded Ricky with a great night of sex. Jessie was very good in bed and Ricky felt more like a man having a girlfriend living with him. He could put up with a baby as long as Jessie kept putting out for him.
About fourteen months later Ricky Junior was born. Ricky was a proud father and seemed to have embraced Misty as his daughter. Things seemed to be looking up for Jessie except for a big problem. Ricky was older and not as handsome as some of the other guys she had been with. She would go to parties with Ricky and feel herself being attracted to other guys. She couldn’t see how Ricky was burning with jealousy.
Things turned for the worse when the owner of the oil change place where Ricky worked announced he was shutting down the business. Suddenly Ricky was without a job. He was barely getting by as it was. Now with three extra mouths to feed he was stressed out. Fatherhood wasn’t all it was cut out to be and he was concerned that Jessie was going to leave him anyway. So after a few months of constant fighting he kicked her and the kids out.
Jessie was determined to set roots down somewhere. That was when she discovered that the government would give her an apartment to live in. She was already getting food stamps. She had been listing Ricky’s apartment as her address and telling the government workers that she was living alone there. Nobody bothered to verify the facts.
But now she had food stamps and an apartment compliments of the government.
It wasn’t long before she found that guys would be very sweet on her. They would romance her and giver her all sorts of stuff. All they wanted was sex. For the next ten years a string of boyfriends moved in and out of Jessie’s life. She let them stay with her and she gave them the sex they wanted as long as they gave her stuff she wanted. When they couldn’t take care of her she kicked them to the curb. She got her car, her flat screen television, her iPhone, her furniture, and extra perks for the kids that way. The government sure wasn’t going to buy them for her. She had no ability to produce an income that would enable her to purchase those things for herself.
She is now nearly 30 years old but looks like she is 40. She is overweight and in poor health. Alcohol and drug use have clouded her mind. Years of offering her body up to the highest bidder has turned her into a very cold and callous woman.
Most of the time Jesus Christ is a curse word. But when she needs extra help Jesus becomes her Savior and she hits up the various church deacon’s funds. They want to share Jesus with her but she isn’t quite interested. The church people don’t understand that a middle class lifestyle is beyond her comprehension. Even the poorest church, if it is financially self-sufficient, is middle class in her mind. She just doesn’t belong in that world. Besides, that world doesn’t want her anyway. They judge her harshly when they have never walked in her shoes.
She’s right. We do judge her harshly. She dropped out of high school when everyone knows the ticket out of poverty is to get an education. She started having sex way too young. She should have saved herself for marriage. She isn’t much of a mother to her kids. The kids have been neglected and abused. Time and time again they have experienced abandonment by father figures. So what kind of example does that set for them?
Jessie’s clothes are “slutty” and out in public she sees the looks of contempt. Middle class women scoff at her attempts to make herself look younger and more attractive. Jessie thinks they all live the life of Desperate Housewives. You know, sex with handsome men who give them really nice things like houses and cars that she can only dream about.
(Over the years, as I’ve worked with men in the church, I’ve found that most husbands of these middle class Christian wives are more sex-starved than sex-saturated. This is a reality that most poor women don’t recognize that because their perceptions of middle class families come from television and movies not personal relationships.)
So what can break through to Jessie and hundreds of thousands of women like her? I think a good choice is to take a page from the playbook of Jesus. Notice in the Gospels as he is confronted with people like Jessie he is moved with compassion towards them. His approach is gentle and kind. He offers them salvation and the hope of a new life. I think about the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. Jesus knew she had been married 5 times and was living with a man outside of wedlock. Yet he chose to offer her “living water” (i.e., salvation) and the hope of something greater in life than she had been experiencing thus far.
Jesus moved toward broken women with redemptive words and actions that flowed from a compassionate heart. Jesus didn’t lecture the Samaritan woman on the theology of marriage. He didn’t rail against a culture that would permit such immorality. Instead he pointed her toward salvation knowing that the new life he had to offer would lead to real life change for her. God doesn’t save us to leave us where we are at. I have yet to find a passage in the Bible where God just leaves those he saves where they are at. No, he lifts us out of misery and showers abundant blessings upon us.
There are times now when I drive through the poor parts of Memphis and Desoto County, Mississippi and I find tears flowing. I see the brokenness all around me. Jesus has captured my heart and truly opening my eyes to see. When you look at the world with compassionate eyes and a heart full of mercy, it kind of changes how you think about those people around you.