Saturday morning was one of those days I could have stayed in bed all day with a good book and a large cold soda by my side. The rain pelted down, steady and cool leaving everything outside bathed in a crispy cleanness. It was delicious. But I had made a promise in my heart, therefore a promise to God that I would visit at least one of the women in Gatesville and so I pulled myself out of the warm blankets, off the pile of perfectly molded pillows to dress and head north.
My first priority was my dear friend Patches who served time with me in County jail so we had a long history. She saw me in my early days in Q pod and watched my torment first hand. She saw my heart bleed and soul cry out and tried to reach out to me even when I would have none of it.
I was worried about getting in to see her though because she had mistakenly listed me under my married name even though I cannot assume that name legally at this point in my probation so I knew there might be hitch to getting in for this visit. But I headed out armed with God and my marriage license and the names and TDC numbers of two other women just in case. And of course, if all else failed, I could go see our "favorite" as she refers to herself, Raena.
When I got there, prayed up on the trip, the Sargeant on duty carefully considered my documents and not only allowed the visit but had the desk guard change my information to that which was correct so I would have easy access in the future. The grace of God was all over the morning.
Patches, wiping the sleep from her eyes, looked tired and frail. She is thin, too thin. Her eyes are dull with pain and weariness. She is glad to see me but cannot muster the energy really to start talking and says, "Just tell me everything going on with you." We haven't see each other in over a year as she fled our housing and ultimately was led to a life on the streets and then back in jail where I find her now.
She needed to talk and I needed to see her. She is tormented by her marriage and a husband who has failed her as badly as she has failed herself. She is fearful of her future despite her deep belief that God is good. She still suffers from the ravages of a past that tells her she is not worthy. We shared two fast hours of fellowship and prayer and tears and praise reports. The Lord was clearly in us and with us though as we left with unfinished stories and things to talk about. I am reminded I must today sit down and write her but it was a blessing of a visit and as always I came home energized knowing that what we attempt to accomplish, we can in Christ, always in Him and He burdens our hearts so we continue
My next visit was hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I had taken two other women's names with me but with time for only one more visit, how do I choose? I pondered who for only a minute and chose the woman I was pretty sure had few to visit her and headed toward the Hilltop Unit. The rain continued to come down but my spirits were not dampened even as I stood outside the trusty gate and awaited entrance. Both my hair and the little blue entrance sheet were tattered by the time the guard pat searched and wanded me but I never the less was to finally sit across from Lorainne.
I had never met her.
I had written Lorainne for over two years now, exchanging letters and hopes and dreams. Lamenting our pasts and hoping in our futures in the Lord. She is a joyously victorious woman in Christ and my sister. That's what she calls me, her sister in Christ and refers to Mark as her brother in law in Christ. I know her to be energetic and vibrant and spirit filled. Her letters always make me feel special, make me laugh and make me think. I've enjoyed talking with her even when I haven't been in touch enough!
But to my surprise as I sat in that room awaiting her arrival, down sat an African American girl with soft brown eyes who will turn 42 but looked about 20, a wide grin and giggle. In all this time I had never pictured Lorainne as black but what a delight to see her smile at me as she realized my surprise! What sisters we are, my pale red head complexion against her warm brown skin as we hold hands across the table and say our very first hellos. She is quick to spill forth a praise report. Her 91 year old father's visit from Oklahoma as he said the very words she'd waited her lifetime to hear, "I don't care what you have done, I'm behind you 100% and I love you." Her medical review telling her that her HIV was "undetectable" and she smiled as she said "They don't know why but I do!" She had received her GED just last month, finally I had written after several months of silence and then bam, here I was to delight her day as she said. We spent a quick hour and a half talking about her plans, her hopes for parole in 2010 and her many blessings, we shared our busy days and our obstacles and our frustrations as though we were co workers in some office somewhere and not surrounded by gnarly guards and guns. We shared conversations and sodas and chips as though we were sitting in my living room and the time passed far too fast. Before we parted she asked twice when she would see me next. Laughing she asked if it would take another year and I assured her no!
As I walked to my car I heard my name and turned to see her waving as she walked back to her dorm. The sun hadn't quite come out but the rain had stopped and I unlocked my car to wonder at the grace of God; the visits He orchestrated today and the freedom in which I entered my car to leave, knowing it could have been me behind these barbed wire fences.
Grace, God's beautiful and restful grace was present in my life and in my heart. And again, He found a way to minister to my spirit while I attempted to minister to others, I am reminded how little I can do without Him. Then I am reminded "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13)