I sat next to Hannah*, sharing a moment of quiet as she read my bible and I looked at pictures from another table mate. I was inside the Halbert Unit in Burnet, TX with Mike Barber Ministries as a counselor; an opportunity to take in the Word of God to more women serving time in our Texas prisons. These women, all serving for a drug related offense were in a Substance Abuse Felony Prison for 6-9 months. They shared a common history with one another; it was amazing the common history we shared as well.
Hannah had asked if she could read my bible, so I slid it across to her as I was handed pictures from another inmate. As I sat sharing the pictures with another woman, smiling as she showed off her parrot, her cat, the trailer house her mother lived in where she would return once released and the flowers out front she had planted last Spring, I heard a gasp from Hannah. She quickly slide the Bible away from herself and said, "What is that doing in there?"
My bible, the one I was given during my tenure at County Jail, was a Students Life Application Bible and contained small boxes called "life application notes" and in bold orange letters were written the word "abortion". They seemed to float off the page and bounce between us, taunting Hannah and lingering there without excuse.
"Well," I said, "Let's take a look at what it says."
Hannah was unwilling to take the Bible back in her hands. I knew in a moment she felt convicted, the shame seemed to wash over her face like a tidal wave; salty and warm but not comforting at all. Overpowering. As though she would be washed out to sea and forgotten.
"Why is it in there? Why was that the first page that opened?" I suddenly realized she felt a mystical voice was trying to reach out from the pages and condemn her.
"My guess is it opened easily to that page because I spent so much time there myself."
She slumped back in her chair and just looked at me.
Together we read Psalms 139:13-16 and she stared at the words "beautifully and wonderfully made".
"This is what makes me know God doesn't love me. I killed my baby. I hurt something He made. I had an abortion and things have been bad ever since."
"Do you really think God condemned you of this, Hannah?" She nodded her head, her small braids bobbing on her head in agreement, her eyes wide with fear. If there were any time that I truly have felt the Holy Spirit take over my words I think it was in this moment and I knew there was a reason, God's orchestration, that I sat at this table.
"Hannah, have you asked God to forgive you?" Again she bobbed her head yes. "Then surely as we can stand on His word, it is done. He has forgiven you and forgotten that sin; it is said your sins are as far from you as the east is to the west."
She listened as the words continued to pour forth. "Just as I have asked God to forgive me for my abortion some 30 years ago, and just as surely as you have, He, in His glorious wonder has forgiven us. Believing in our own salvation and forgiveness in His eyes is the very foundation of our faith, isn't it?" She blinked and flashed a small half grin at me. "I know He forgives you and I know He forgives me. I am so grateful for that!"
She shook her head now not taking her eyes from the Bible laying between us.
"I know God forgives," she said.
"Then when will you forgive yourself Hannah?"
Sometimes quiet is a comfort and in this moment Hannah was taking in the quiet comfort of what God wanted her to know. He knew she struggled so with an old decision He had already handled and He let us just sit with His forgiving grace in fellowship with one another.
"That's it, isn't it? It's all me. I'm the one condemning me now. I'm the one hurting myself because I hurt my baby. He's...He's not mad at me anymore." We smiled at one another and the dinner sound was called. I rose from the table to walk out with my other counselors so the inmates could be lined in the hall. "You'll come back and talk to me, won't you?"
"Of course," I smiled and walked off, so amazed at how God can take over a conversation and handle what I am ill-equipped to do.
Hannah and I spent the rest of the weekend together, talking and enjoying one anothers company. We had women join us as we talked and talked. They would see our lively and constant conversation and want to be a part of it. All the while God was gently working with Hannah on past choices and she was learning to give even those hurtful choices to God to fix for her. She was letting go of guilt and shame and torment so God could weave His love in her heart and I knew, no matter how her life had gone God was letting her know He forgave her and she was worthy of His love.
I've thought about Hannah often since that day in the dayroom of the Halbert Unit. I've had many opportunities to reflect on my choices and the choices we watch the women make as they walk out the doors of their prison. Some repeat the old choices and find the same results at the end; others make new choices that seem so uncomfortable at first but somehow don't seem to land them back in bad circumstances. But God put a new lesson on my heart that day, even the most hurtful choices I've made, God had a solution for them. He would fix what I had muddled and do it in a way that could only scream His artistry at work. He would use my worst mistakes for His glory so everyone could see His powerful love.
I'm grateful I can rely on Him and the stronger I grow in faith, the more I can rely on His word to direct my new choices. He gives us ample direction in the Bible and in the life of Jesus. He helps us understand wise direction and destructive folly. He has provided us a blueprint for life if we will simly open our hearts to hear. Much of the pain we live through could have been avoided had we only sought His wisdom first but even when we don't, He is always there when we call His name. Ready to heal broken hearts, forgive sinners and raise us up to Him in Glory on the day He returns. Our futures are bright despite our best attemps otherwise because of His plans for us.
As for the past, I gave that to God.