I was convicted of theft; credit card abuse. On a grand scale this meant I stole someone's credit card and used it. On a personal level it meant I was in jail and my family was devastated and my children were left to fend for themselves and my mother was alone in her apartment crying and I was alone in a holding tank waiting to become part of "general population".
The courts needn't do anything. I was doing a fine job of banishing myself to the dark recesses of hell. I would never, ever forgive myself for what I had done to a stranger, my family, my children, and myself. Never!
Flash forward. One of our client's is released from prison and finds her bank account and food stamp account cleaned out. She calls us. Both Joy and I. How did this happen? Her billfold was missing from her purse. Every dime from her account was gone. We had possession of her clothes and purse for months.
The Sheriff called me. Did I use her card? (Of course they thought I did.) Am I sure I never used her card? Where did I live? How tall was I? Date of birth? Height? Eye color? Standard questions ma'am. Now I'm dealing with a client who has accused me of a crime I had nothing to do with, business partners angry because I am being accused and me, hearing a small voice that says "you still have to minister to this woman," and knowing I was hearing God.
Flash back to jail; a visit from my son, tears streaming down his face as he says "Next time Mom, just buy us a card, we'll understand. You didn't have to do this." He understood and forgave me even while his heart was breaking. A letter from my daughter, "It's just like you have always told me Mom, I may not like what you did but I will always love you." She listened to all I had tried to teach her and came out loving me as I taught her to do even as she was pulled from her home and transplanted far away.
I was slowly learning that God forgives. Even if I didn't. Even if the world didn't. His word says so. My heart tells me it's true.
This week I head into Austin with Joy to visit this client. She is angry and sure I was the one to blame. Now she tells Joy she never meant to implicate either of us. She needs us again. She accused me of stealing from her and despite all she had done, she "didn't steal from nobody ever," so how could this happen to her? What did I have to say about this? Now again I'm called by God to show her comfort and love despite the precarious position with local authorities her call and accusation put me in for a few moments anyway.
Mark is angry. He's my champion and not ready to let bygones be bygones. He reminds me that she played with my freedom and my life and the ministry when she accused me. He reminds me that a transformed person might give someone the benefit of the doubt and he's right. He reminds me the fear and tears I lived in those first few hours of her accusations.
I had been advocating for her from the moment she was re-arrested. I had advocated that we continue to write to her even though she had used drugs in the ministry home and had tried to outsmart our drug test. I advocated that we send her money on her commissary books in prison. I advocated for her even though all evidence was she had used our services and tried to con us. But I remembered she was a scared woman, just like I had been and I remembered I just needed someone to tell me I wasn't a bad person; that I was forgiven. She is scared and penniless and needing someone to fix things for her. Being out of prison is often more scary than being in. Nothing is certain out here; not food, shelter, clothes. Nothing.
The very night the Sheriff called to question me God whispered in my ear and it had something to do with forgiveness and love. If my children can show me that sweet grace when I turned their lives upside down, surely I can show the same for someone who walks the world as afraid as I once was. And if God can forgive me for all I've ever done in my life and all I will ever do, surely I can extend that grace beyond myself.
Someone stole from our client. She lashed out at those that have helped her the most. I think that's the business we're in.
I think God is teaching me a few things too.