So here I am in the Red Light District of Amsterdam with my foot up on a bar stool showing a girl my tattoo...a tattoo which just so happens to be a bible verse.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart...
And I think...wow, am I a bit out of place or what !?!
I have really been going back and forth on whether to even share this experience...but I'm going for it. While in Amsterdam, I took a tour through the Red Light District. And after the tour, I actually spent some time hanging out in the Red Light District. And while I completely accept the fact I really had no business exposing my senses to all of the madness that occurs in this place, I am actually quite thankful for the experience. And honestly, the world could learn a thing or two from Amsterdam.
Before we get to what I learned, I feel it is important to understand a few things about the Red Light District. Although the Red Light District is somewhat set apart on a city map, it isn't this "XXX" part of town that no dares near unless looking for some sin. It is just a fact of life. Okay...a very, very odd fact of life but nonetheless a fact. You walk through the street just like any other street in any other city. You walk past stores, bakeries, schools and restaurants, just like in all other parts of the city. The only difference is occasionally you walk past a door with a glass window and a girl standing in lingerie....with a red light above the door. These red light doors are scattered throughout this district in the city. Now don't get me wrong...I felt REALLY uncomfortable and out of place but I did try to absorb it all into my conservative mind. And what I felt was overwhelming sadness for these beautiful women. For them, this is a business and a way-of-life. But in reality, they are disgracing their bodies and being paid to basically be used for sex which should be so much more than a physical act. I wanted to walk into one of their rooms and yell out "you are so much more than this!" or say something like "you are worth more than you will ever realize!". Unfortunately, this world has morphed their minds into thinking this is business as usual and it doesn't matter. But it really does matter. And I can't help but think the emotional damage they are experiencing from this warped lifestyle. And my heart just broke for them. So as I walked through this district, I said a prayer for each girl's door I passed. And I thought, what an amazing ministry opportunity lies in this part of the city. The potential is overwhelming.
They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity and they are full of greed.
But as my heart broke and I cried out silent prayers, I also realized there was a lot to learn from this city. Although the city condones many things I do not, they are very accepting of everyone. Have you ever visited a city where you can find a church, elementary school, and Christian hostel in the middle of a section of town populated with legal prostitution, drug stores and sex shops? Well this is the Red Light District of Amsterdam. They openly accept EVERYONE. There is no judgement...just acceptance. And although this really felt unnatural at moments...there was an element of beauty in it. A beauty I'm not sure I would ever be able to describe in words.
And really, isn't that how God is? Doesn't he accept anyone, no matter the road you've traveled, as long as you openly accept Him and honor His sacrifice? Ministering in the middle of the Red Light District...is absolutely Jesus's style. He wasn't always among believers...he actually spent time with the prostitutes, liars, and down and dirty sinners. I really think if Jesus were human today...you just might find Him smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District of Amsterdam. Demonstrating love, grace and forgiveness to EVERYONE.
There's a saying and sign in Amsterdam that reads " I AMsterdam". And although the city is known for many things...I wish we all could be a part of Amsterdam and learn to love and accept EVERYONE.
Red lights, Jesus and grace,
Just a few days ago I stood inside the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, completely overwhelmed with emotion as I stared blankly at pictures of dead bodies piled up in concentration camps during World War II. Piles and piles of men, women and children treated like monsters and eventually killed for their faith. I stood there and tried to imagine the heartache Mr. Frank (Anne's father) experienced the day he learned that he was the only survivor of the eight people that were in hiding with him for two years. I can't imagine how he felt learning that his wife and two daughters died in those concentration camps. As I stood in the rooms the eight people hid in, I just took in the emptiness. The rooms are empty at Mr. Frank's request to signify the lives lost both of those in hiding and the thousands and thousands of Jews killed in the concentration camps. As I tried to imagine how he felt the first time he stepped foot back in those rooms, I had to wonder how in the world he went on living. And then I realized he devoted his life to human rights and religious freedom. He used his daughter's strength and writing to propel him forward. He used it as a reason to live. A purpose bigger than him, bigger than Anne, and bigger than a war.
"In spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation, consisting of confusion, misery and death....I think...peace and tranquility will return again." - Anne Frank
Anne used her diary as a way to be honest about her feelings on the war and the way she coped with being in hiding. In a way, writing gave her hope. I cannot imagine what it was like to live in hiding for two years...having to be silent every moment of the day. Living in fear that they might be discovered...and the fear of what would actually happen to them all if discovered. She wrote about her dreams and plans for when the war was over. Personally, it was so tough to read through her diary as she wrote about all the things she was going to do when the war was over...and know all along she didn't survive to live out her dreams. Trying to realize what it was like, to be persecuted and tortured for faith, was almost impossible. And as I stood in this small museum, either out of naivety that it could not or arrogance that it would not, I was so thankful the world would never have to experience or witness such horror again. Because the war did come to an end. And living as a witness to these events seemed surreal. Unimaginable. Not remotely possible.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Well although the war ended, clearly the battle rages on. And the efforts in human rights and religious freedom pursued by Mr. Frank in Anne's honor are just as needed today as ever before. Just a few days ago, I had a hard time imagining what it was like to live in a time when people were actually killed for their faith. And honestly, 'killed' is describing it nicely. A time when life was not sacred. And today I realized we are witnessing the beginning of the same exact thing. A disgusting, horrific, unimaginable lack of respect for life in Iraq. The same senseless acts of killing men, women and children...actually beheading children....is very real today. And my heart just breaks. And a part of me is so ashamed that just a few days ago, I actually had the audacity to think this wasn't possible. That 'we', the world as we know it today, is better than during World War II. But I was wrong. And I fear for the people losing their life because of this hatred. So I will be praying tonight...for their safety. For their peace. For their hearts. And giving thanks for my freedom. Because I don't have to hide in a small dark room and I am not worried about getting my head chopped off tomorrow because I prayed tonight.
The war might have ended but the battle lives on.
"Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs."
Hope, faith and a hiding spot,
I am standing in a queue (that's "waiting in line" for us Americans!) outside of Anne Frank's house. It's a two-hour wait to see the hiding spot for this brave lil' one and her family. And I'm listening to the people around me complain about the wait and contemplate stepping away. And immediately I think of Disney World. And America.
Thousands of people wait in long lines everyday to ride roller coasters
that last less than 1 minute at Disney World. Sure there's a thrill,
a feeling of excitement and the satisfaction of accomplishing the fastest
ride, largest drop or most G-force. But all and all, it's just amusement.
No reflection. No knowledge acquisition. No meditation. Flip the setting to waiting in line for a historic landmark, the chance to honor those much braver than us, and all of a sudden the wait isn't worth it. And I can't help but think this general lack of patience is amusing. Now don't get me wrong there are plenty of people that wouldn't wait in a line at Disney...my sister being one of them. Which is exactly why I'm waiting and she is shopping! But the patience to wait has allowed me to glean a perspective I'm quite
Be patient, then, brothers and sister, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
As I stand in this line I get to see the Holland-style architecture and enjoy the warm sun and cool breeze. Ever so often the breeze blows a sweet marijuana smell my way and although I'm not into smoking, regardless of it being "legal" here (which it isn't actually legal, it's decriminalized!), the smell is quite distinctive and pleasant here. Taking the city in one sense at a time...all while waiting in line! It's given me a moment to relax in my thoughts and actually write a blog (thankful for iPhone to write it on!), something I haven't had time to do since I started my vacation. All of my
downtime has been spent finishing up school work--which I'm almost
done with this semester!
It's a different way of life in Europe. It's slow...but a peaceful
slow not a boring slow. Amsterdam is likely the most beautiful city
I've ever visited. Which is incredibly surprising since it's know for
red lights and "coffee shops". FYI- there's a distinctive difference
between a coffee bar and a coffee shop in Amsterdam. I'm definitely
more of a coffee bar type girl! But the city is beautiful and clean
and almost refreshing. People are active, they seem to get up late, ride bikes everywhere, relax on Sundays and just enjoy their city. It's definitely a bit out of my comfort zone and I absolutely love it!!!
So the next you are waiting in line...reflect on what you are waiting
for. Take in the scenery around you because a little patience can go a long way in this world!
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love.
This verse applies to so very many things in Amsterdam...and there will be many more blogs to follow. Just haven't had time to get my thoughts on paper! More to come!
Waiting, watching and listening,
PS - If I offended anyone with the sweet marijuana smell comment, I do apologize. The next few blogs are going to be honest, real reflections on my trip to Amsterdam and Paris. Just a heads up.
Just a few reflections about everything God is teaching me in this life...a journey deeper into His purpose for my life.